Saturday, December 31, 2016

Since we probably...

...won't have a Hike next week (too cold!) and since it's also the end of one year and the beginning of another, it might be a good time to reflect on where we've been over the last sixteen months and where we'd still like to go.

In September, 2015, Julie and I decided (okay, Julie decided) that we needed a new program to fill in on Tuesday nights after the Millennium Park Summer Film Series ended shortly before Labor Day. Since I like to tramp around the city on foot (and eat along the way) we came up with "Tuesday Treks with Trace." Each week I'd lead a group from 1212 at five o'clock sharp to explore a different neighborhood of the city. Everyone would be expected to pay their own way on the CTA and purchase an inexpensive (under ten bucks if at all possible) dinner. When the movies resumed last summer we shifted to Wednesday nights and rechristened it "Urban Hike with Mike."

When we began I really didn't know what to expect, but I quickly attracted a "core" group of Trekkers consisting of my son John, Alan and Jack. This expanded some nights to include Bradon, Nico, Ryan, Zechary and some others whose names escape me right now. (We've even had a few dads tag along on occasion.) While we ate a lot at Subway and Potbelly at first to keep the cost down, the guys quickly grew tired of eating subs every week and lobbied for more eclectic fare. So we branched out a little and have dined (Alan likes the verb "to dine") at such varied spots as Manny's Deli on South Jefferson Street, Five Faces on Division, Top Notch Beefburgers in Beverly, Valois in Hyde Park, the Rock N Roll McDonald's, and countless other hot dog stands, hamburger joints and sub shops.

I remember our first Trek, to Bridgeport on the South Side. Alan, Zechary and I took the Halsted bus down to 37th Street and walked past the first Mayor Daley's bungalow on South Lowe and his parish (Nativity of Our Lord), ate dinner at Fabulous Freddies on 31st, and finished up with a stroll through Palmisano Park at sunset. And thus the Trek was born!

A couple of weeks later, we turned our clocks back an hour and the question before us was, should we continue Trekking in the dark? And the response from the group was a resounding "Yes!" So on we went, through the winter months (with the exception of only a few bitterly cold nights and the occasional rainy one) and on into the spring and beyond.

According to Wikipedia, there are 77 community areas (above) which are officially recognized by the City of Chicago. Of these, I can count twenty that we have visited on our Treks/Hikes since we began. (For those of you keeping score at home, that's a little over a quarter.)

In alphabetical order, they are Albany Park, Armour Square, Beverly, Bridgeport, Edgewater, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Lake View, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Logan Square, the Loop, Lower West Side, Near North Side, Near South Side, Near West Side, North Center, Uptown and West Town. *exhale*

Community areas are distinct from neighborhoods in Chicago. Community areas often encompass groups of neighborhoods. Although many community areas contain more than one neighborhood, they may also share the same name, or parts of the name, of some of their individual neighborhoods. 

Got all that?

Of these "neighborhoods," I can count 21 that we have visited, including Andersonville, Buena Park, Chinatown, Dearborn Park, DePaul, the Gold Coast, Goose Island, Greektown, the Magnificent Mile, Old Town, Palmer Square, Pilsen, the Prairie Avenue Historic District, Printer's Row, Ravenswood, Roscoe Village, South Loop, Ukrainian Village, the Villa, Wicker Park and -- of course -- Wrigleyville.

Throughout all this I think the guys have gotten a ton of fresh air and exercise, learned their way around the city a little, become more comfortable taking public transportation, sampled some of the city's "finer" restaurants and hopefully developed an appreciation of this wonderful town in which we live. And, by the way, despite all my complaining about the winters in Chicago it's really a great city. Julie and I returned here in 2014 after 22 years in the suburbs and we're both so impressed with how much the city has improved in that time. There are so many nice neighborhoods (including our own!) in which you wouldn't have wanted to hike twenty years ago. Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers -- the long-term crime rate in Chicago is down dramatically. (I can show you the statistics if you'd like.) Julie and I both agree: the city of Chicago has never been nicer. Come with us on a Hike sometime and I'll show you!

Friday, December 30, 2016

I seem to recall...

...reading somewhere (although I can't find it right now) that a prominent Democratic senator (I think it was Daniel Patrick Moynihan) leaned over to one of his colleagues during the debate over Hillarycare back in 1993 and said in response to its mind-numbing complexity, "Why don't we just pass Medicare for all?"

The answer, of course, is simple: private health insurance companies, while they add little to no value, are very profitable and thus very powerful. They, along with the rest of the health care industry, give a ton of money (second only to Wall Street, I think) to Congressmen and senators and they expect (and get) a lot in return. (Remember when Joe Lieberman said he just couldn't support a public option back in 2009? Do you think that was a matter of conscience?)

So when President Obama and the rest of the Democrats decided to take "another bite at the apple" in 2009 they decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and structured the Affordable Care Act -- okay, Obamacare -- around the private insurers. Rather than pass a single-payer system (which would have been impossible anyway), why not just pass the Republican "alternative" plan from the 1990s (which later became known as Romneycare)?

Well, I won't go into what happened next (we're all sick of the whole thing by now, right?), but fast-forward to 2016. Paul Ryan & Company are planning to repeal the ACA next year and replace it with . . . what? (Psst: nothing.) After nearly seven years Republicans still don't have a replacement plan that's as good as Obamacare, and replacing the ACA would result in a tax increase on the rich. And, let's face it, they never wanted to reform health care in the first place. The GOP's constituents -- doctors, insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies, medical device manufacturers, etc. -- were doing just fine thank you very much in the old "system." (Actually, absence of a health care "system.") So while Republicans are expected to repeal Obamacare quickly before anyone can react, they'll probably delay its replacement until . . . forever, I think.

But this may come back to bite them and their constituents in the rear end. (I'm back to avoiding more explicit language.) My prediction is that if the GOP gets its wish (wet dream is more like it), they'll repeal the law and everything will go back to the profound dysfunction we all experienced before 2010. (Some might argue, not without justification, that things are still profoundly dysfunctional. Point taken.) But, my second prediction, which would follow the first, is that when the Democrats regain control in Washington (and it's only a matter of time, isn't it?), rather than repass Obamacare or Hillarycare or some other unpopular Rube Goldberg-esque system, they'll just cut to the chase this time and pass Medicare for All, like Bernie Sanders wanted. It would be so much simpler to understand and have the added benefit of being the cheapest and most efficient way to deliver health care in America.

(Ask yourself, have you ever met a senior who didn't like Medicare? Even that crazy uncle of yours who watches Fox News all day -- and we all have one -- loves his government-provided single-payer health care Medicare.)

What about the private insurers, etc.? Well, I never thought I'd say this (but then again I never thought Donald Trump would get the Republican nomination -- much less the presidency -- either), but Medicare for All may just replace them in a single-payer system. I know, I know, I never thought it would be possible, but we all have to reassess what's possible after this last year.

I always thought, like almost everyone else, that Hillary would win in November. And I assumed, as a result, that Obamacare would be forever tweaked around the margins until the American health care system would ultimately -- some day -- resemble Germany's: single-payer through the back door, as I would put it. In other words, private insurers would continue to deliver health care, although in a heavily-regulated fashion -- like utilities -- until they just acted as the middle men in a de facto single-payer system. Every doctor, hospital, etc. would take everyone's insurance and they would all cover the same things for the same deductible and premium. Insurance companies would compete, as they do in Germany and some other countries, primarily on service. That way they could survive even as the U. S. moved more toward universal coverage.

But now I'm starting to rethink my assumptions. Obamacare may very well get repealed next year, the Republicans won't replace it, and the Democrats may just extend Medicare to all when they retake the White House and Congress in 2020 or 2024 or . . . whenever. It's inevitable that they will have a majority at some point in the future -- remember when we had the GOP dead and buried? And when it happens they won't screw around this time -- they'll just pass Medicare for all and the insurance companies can pound salt.

So the moral of the story is: be careful what you wish for, Republicans, you just might get it. Obamacare may get repealed and you may end up someday with something you consider much, much worse.

By the way, for those of you not familiar with single-payer, Physicians for a National Health Program is a great website. Click here for some FAQs, including "What is single payer?"

We stayed close to home...

...this week on our last "Urban Hike with Mike" of 2016. My son John had been lobbying for Greektown, so even though it's close, we went there for dinner along with Jack and Ryan.

We started out, as usual, from 1212 at five o'clock sharp and walked east on Harrison, past the University of Illinois at Chicago, and turned left (north) on Halsted.

UIC owes its origins, more than anyone I think, to the first Mayor Daley. He always felt that if Chicago was to become a great city it needed a great public university. So way back in 1935, the first act of the newly-elected state representative was to introduce a resolution calling for the establishment of an undergraduate Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. After World War II a temporary, two-year branch campus of the U of I was founded on Navy Pier to accommodate veterans on the G.I. Bill. (I think the father of one of my best friends went there.)

In 1963, construction began on the University's new campus at Harrison and Halsted and it opened its doors in February 1965. Eventually becoming known as the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, it had to be the first (and only) institution of higher learning named after the junction of three interstate expressways. In 1982 it was rechristened the University of Illinois at Chicago. Good call.

(For those of you keeping score at home, Lincoln-Way East was named after just one road, Lincoln Highway, and is only a high school.)

Until I read its Wikipedia page I had no idea that UIC had the largest medical school in the United States. Apparently, one in eight Illinois doctors is a graduate of the UIC College of Medicine, and one in ten Chicagoans with a college degree is a UIC alumnus. Who knew?

As we turned north on Halsted and crossed over the "circle," I was reminded of my niece, who moved to the city back in 2000 or 2001. I took a Saturday afternoon one day to drive her around town and show her the various neighborhoods but cautioned her not to "go west of Greektown" (the implication being that it wasn't "safe"). Nowadays, however, I would tell her (or any recent college graduate) not to "go west of Greektown" -- you can't afford it!

You might be wondering, What brought the Near West Side "back"? (My dad would have told you it was always a "rough" part of town -- Chicago's answer to Skid Row.) Opra Winfrey? Michael Jordan? Who knows? But it's a happenin' place now, all the way to Ashland, if not the United Center itself. (When we first moved back to the city in 2014 Julie and I were riding our bikes past "the stadium" and I asked if she ever thought we could do such a thing. That's how much the city has changed in the last twenty years or so -- for the better.)

After dinner at Mr. Greek Gyros at the corner of Jackson and Halsted, above, we continued on north up to Randolph. We passed one Greek restaurant after another, of course, including the recently-shuttered Parthenon, where flaming saganaki was said to have been invented back in 1968. Opa!

(Just so you don't get the wrong impression, we don't always eat at such fancy places; we've also been known to frequent those two Maxwell Street joints you can see from the Dan Ryan where you have to eat standing up outside. On Wednesday, though, we figured we'd "live a little" seeing as how it was our last Hike of the year.)

Greektown dates back to the time when UIC was built in the 1960s. The original Greek neighborhood of Chicago, known as "the Delta," was displaced when the university moved in a few blocks south across the Eisenhower Expressway.

The Greektown "strip" extends north to about Madison, I'd say, where it becomes simply the West Loop. We turned left on Randolph and walked past another series of restaurants, each one trendier than the last: Au Cheval, Girl & the Goat, Nellcote, etc., as well as some of my personal favorites like Perez and Grange Hall Burger Bar.

When we came to the corner of Randolph and Carpenter I was surprised to see construction of the new McDonald's building on the former site of Harpo Studios going full tilt well after sunset. The headquarters, which had moved to Oak Brook from downtown in 1971, is scheduled to open in early 2018. The company's circular journey reminded me that I was now living in the same neighborhood where my grandmother was born in the late nineteenth century. (The Irish were in Little Italy before the Italians.) "We've come full circle, Ma!" I used to tell my mother before she passed away last summer.

Speaking of full circle, it was time now to turn south on Ogden Avenue and head back to 1212. After passing the magnificent Church of the Epiphany, built in 1885 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, we walked east through the Historic District on West Jackson Street, past Whitney Young High School (Michelle Obama's alma mater), and across the Eisenhower to home.

The forecast for next Wednesday is cold (too cold, perhaps, for a Hike) and I'll be soaking in the sun in Los Angeles on the 18th, so I'll have to think of a particularly good Hike for January 11. We'll have to kick off 2017 with something special! Any suggestions? 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Kenneth Snelson, a sculptor who died at age 89.

You don't suppose he ever got a letter addressed to Kenneth S. Nelson do you? Or maybe a thousand?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

As long as I'm in the Christmas...

...spirit (and calling people names), how about this Bibi Netanyahu guy?

I just finished reading Peter Baker's piece in the Times, "For Obama and Netanyahu, a Final Clash After Years of Conflict," and it reminded me that before Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Israel was accused of trying to influence an American presidential election.

To refresh your memory, this is from a piece in the Christian Science Monitor (my emphasis):

Some observers claim that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to tip the scales against President Obama in the elections this November. Judging by his recent behavior – and based on my own research about how such efforts have played out in other settings – these accusations are probably correct.

Netanyahu’s dogged efforts to highlight small gaps between the Obama administration’s position and his own have prompted accusations that he seeks to help elect his old friend Mitt Romney. Observers who accuse him of meddling include veteran columnists with the The New York Times, the New Yorker, Time Magazine, and Ha’aretz, as well as Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz.

You see, long before Republicans went gaga for Putin there was Netanyahu.

Now, I'm not going to call Mr. Netanyahu any names (I've done enough of that for one Christmas Eve), but I am going to wish him well working with President Donald Trump. You never know: he just might miss dealing with a reasonable president like Barack Obama.

Carl Paladino is an asshole.

I'm sorry; I've tried really hard not to use bad language in the eight years I've been writing this blog,* but I'm going to make an exception this one time -- and on Christmas Eve, no less!

But Mr. Paladino, a "one-time Republican candidate for governor of New York and political ally of President-elect Donald J. Trump" just made some statements in a Buffalo newspaper that even Jessica Ditto, a spokeswoman for Trump, could only describe as "absolutely reprehensible."

(Jessica Ditto, a spokeswoman? Sounds like a prime candidate for Name of the Day.)

I really hate to repeat what Mr. Paladino said, but at the risk that you might not click on the original piece, here goes:

Question: What would you most like to happen in 2017?

Answer: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

Question: What would you like to see go away in 2017?

Answer: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.

Can you believe that? Where does all this hatred come from?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York called the comments “racist, ugly and reprehensible.” I think if I were asked I would just shake my head and ask what was wrong with that guy. I mean, seriously, what is wrong with this guy?

According to Mr. Paladino, he's not racist, oh no, just "not politically correct."

Well, I guess I'm not "politically correct," either. Mr. Paladino, you're an asshole.

* I really have tried to avoid using profanity in this blog. (While the 159-year-old Atlantic can use the "F word" in the title of a piece, I can't.) In this Brave New World of the Internet, the quickest way to lose credibility, I think, is to use language that isn't "suitable for work." Or for your mother to read. Or, say, for an evangelical Christian. My purpose here is to share my opinions with everyone; I don't want to give anyone an excuse to click on something else.

Friday, December 23, 2016

One of the more annoying...

...tweets from this election season was from a guy with the Twitter handle @matthew8787:

She may Coakley this yet.

Annoying because I think I may have suspected that @matthew8787 -- a week before the election -- was right about Hillary Clinton.

Martha Coakley, for those of you who don't follow politics closely, was the "sure thing" Democratic candidate for Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat in 2010 who lost in a stunning upset to Scott Brown, a Republican and former pinup model, in deep-blue Massachusetts. A fluke? That's what many of us thought at the time. But then four years later, in 2014, Ms. Coakley lost narrowly again, this time to Republican Charlie Baker in the race for governor of the Bay State. Even though Ms. Coakley was seen as more than well-qualified for both offices, she just couldn't connect with voters.

And the moral of the story is that some people, like Ms. Coakley -- and Al Gore, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton -- may be highly-intelligent and capable but are just not good at running for office. (Not everyone is good at everything.)

So for all the talk of Russian hacking, the Comey letter, fake news, etc., I just think at the end of the day that Mrs. Clinton was a lousy candidate. (Like 2000, this election should have never even been close.) I'm not sure exactly what it takes -- the empathy of Bill Clinton, the ability to speak to people in simple terms they can understand like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, or what -- but Mrs. Clinton just doesn't have it and never will. (Full disclosure: Whether it's fair or not, I could never make it in the NBA either.)

Now I remember why I was such an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama in 2008. And in hindsight I should have recognized it as a red flag that so many Democrats I know were so lukewarm on Hillary this year.

The second moral of the story is that Democrats should stop worrying about identity politics or how to appeal to the white working class or blah, blah, blah. Just find a smart, charismatic candidate who can speak well, inspire people and get them to vote for him or her.

Prediction: the Democratic nominee in 2020 will be someone -- like Obama in 2008 or Trump in 2016 -- who isn't on anyone's radar yet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy winter solstice!

Just think, it could be worse. If you lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, you'd only get about three hours of sunlight today.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Democrats have been wondering...

...for eight years now what exactly it would take to "break the fever" in today's extreme Republican Party.

President Obama famously opined that it would happen after he was reelected in 2012:

I believe that if we're successful in this election, when we're successful in this election, that the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make much sense because I'm not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again.

And I could see the wisdom in this at the time. I figured that most of the "fever," the blind, unthinking opposition to the president in his first term, was just an effort to make Obama seem a "failed president," a la Jimmy Carter, in order to deny him a second term in 2012. But this turned out to be wrong, of course.

I then concluded, like many others, that it would take an electoral blowout on the order of Barry Goldwater or George McGovern in order to empower the "moderates" to take back the party from the extremists. I figured the GOP would nominate the most conservative candidate in the race -- like a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul -- and go down in flames in 2016. That didn't happen, either, of course. (In fairness, no one saw the rise of Donald Trump coming.) But now he's president and the extremists in the Republican Party are getting their Dream Cabinet.

So the fever is in no danger of breaking, right?

Well, as a former colleague of mine used to say, "Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe maybe."

Maybe -- just maybe -- the most counter-intuitive thing might happen.

Today, conservative Michael Brendan Dougherty writes in The Week, "Conservatives are getting everything they want from Trump. They may regret it." And I think he may be on to something. As he says:

...there are serious political dangers that come from pressing too hard.

What if conservatives, say, pass all of their dream legislation and the public . . . doesn't like it? What if it proves to be unpopular? Then what?

I mean, really, who is clamoring for privatizing Medicare and cutting Social Security benefits? Do you know anyone? And who, really, wants to weaken public schools? (I would argue that the reputation of your local school is the single-most important factor in the value of your home.) Is there really some burning desire among the vaunted White Working Class to reduce taxes on the one percent? Or repeal Dodd-Frank and relieve long-suffering, downtrodden Wall Street? How about clean air and water? Is the American public just fed up and sick of that liberal nonsense? And let me go out on a limb here -- just indulge me for a second: I can't believe that Trump's voters really want to lower wages throughout the country. (Call me eccentric.)

So what if the Republicans overreach, as they seem likely to do? And what if their "reforms" prove to be as unpopular as I think they will? Or just plain don't work very well (same thing, I suppose). Maybe, if the Democrats gain seats in the 2018 midterms and/or win back the White House in 2020 the extremists will finally be discredited and pave the way for whatever "moderates" are left to take over the GOP.

Who knows? We have a ways to go here. But wouldn't it be ironic if by controlling all three branches of government and finally -- finally -- passing an agenda that would make Ayn Rand smile, it ends up breaking the Republican "fever" and setting the stage for a more normal political environment?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Whenever I hear the President-elect...

...tell us how smart he is I feel like Michael Corleone in this scene from The Godfather Part II.

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to, well, you just have to read it in context. From an article in the Times today:

A hunter with a professed interest in land issues, the younger Mr. Trump is a member of a sportsmen’s group, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, that vigorously criticized Ms. McMorris Rodgers as a candidate for the Interior Department because of her support for selling off public land.

The president of that group, Land Tawney, is a supporter of Mr. Tester who ran a “super PAC” supporting the Democrat’s last re-election campaign. He denied any ulterior motive in backing Mr. Zinke for the cabinet, calling him an ideal candidate on many of the organization’s core issues.

Mick Mulvaney, Republican...

...Congressman from South Carolina, has just been named as President-elect Trump's budget director.

A founder of "the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative lawmakers who pushed for Speaker John A. Boehner to resign," Mr. Mulvaney "would help guide the president-elect’s promise of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a tax overhaul and a huge investment in the nation’s infrastructure," according to an article in the New York Times today.

Mr. Mulvaney joins Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Andrew Puzder, Betsy DeVos, Rep. Tom Price, Gov. Rick Perry, Ben Carson and Scott Pruitt (have I left anyone out of this freak show?) in what has to be the most extreme right-wing administration ever. (As I already wrote, Saint Ronald Reagan would be blushing!)

I haven't read this anywhere, but Trump's Cabinet looks as if it's been completely outsourced to a triumvirate of Reince Priebus, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan (above). In short, it's a libertarian's wet dream.

And all I can say is, is this what Trump's voters voted for? The Star Wars bar scene? I thought the Donald ran on a populist agenda? Now we're about to have a Labor Secretary who's anti-labor, an Education Secretary who doesn't believe in public schools, a Health and Human Services Secretary that would like to take away health care from 20 million people and privatize Medicare, an Environmental Protection Agency head who doesn't believe in protecting the environment, and now a budget director who, according to that piece in the Times (my emphasis):

...joined a conservative bloc that pressed for slashing federal spending more deeply than House Republican leaders preferred, and became a prominent face of the anti-Washington movement on Capitol Hill. He was one of several dozen House Republicans who refused to back the deal to raise the statutory debt limit.

Oy!

If this isn't the definition of a reactionary administration then I don't know what is. And, while we still don't know what kind of president Trump will be, if he outsources domestic policy to his Cabinet we may be about to see the biggest example of overreach ever. And what happens when you over reach? There's a backlash. And, I think, in this case it may be a huge one.

I've often said that I know Paul Ryan because I used to be Paul Ryan. Oh, sure, I was never as tall and good-looking as the Congressman from Janesville, Wisconsin (full disclosure: my mother-in-law's hometown), but when I was his age I was an avid reader of Ayn Rand and a Libertarian with a capital "L." (I was actually a member of the party; can you believe it?) And I remember well when the Republicans shut down the government back in the mid-1990s. I remember thinking breathlessly: It's the libertarian moment; our time has finally come!

But then something funny happened: the public turned against the shutdown. What? It turns out, people like some of the services that the federal government provides. And that was the first time, I think, that I began to reconsider my libertarian philosophy. (Exploring and explaining -- to myself -- my own political evolution has been one of the main purposes of this eight-year-old blog.)

Now, just like me, other ideologues -- like Paul Ryan -- may have a similar epiphany if they get their way and pursue an extreme, right-wing agenda. You see, the United States is still a democracy -- the majority rules. And Mr. Ryan and the Trump Cabinet may find out that people want services from the public sector that the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide. And that means health care; an "old age" pension (sorry if that's politically incorrect); a good labor/management balance; quality, free public schools (including -- gasp! -- a college education that doesn't bankrupt you); clean air and water (imagine!) and everything else that makes life better.

As someone who has been in the private sector his whole life (an advantage I have over Mr. Ryan, who, as far as I can tell has never spent a day), I can tell you that left to its own devices, businesses are rapacious. And socialism, taken to its extreme, doesn't work. So, as people figured out a long time ago, you need a little of both. You need capitalism to create jobs and wealth but government to oversee it and provide protection for its citizens.

Now Paul Ryan strikes me as an earnest, well-intentioned young man. I have no doubt that he's a good family man and someone I'd like to go hunting with or have a beer with if I did either of those things. But I also think that if he and Mike Pence and Reince Priebus and the rest of the Trump administration try taking us in an extreme libertarian direction they are going to be sadly disappointed because I just don't believe the majority of the country is where they are ideologically. You take my late parents, for example. While they were always railing against "welfare" for Those People, they were all for Medicare and Social Security for themselves. ("We paid into it!" they'd argue. "Not as much as you're getting out of it," I'd reply.) And I think the Trump voters are the same. I predict if he lets his Cabinet secretaries run wild he's going to have a backlash from the public that will be so severe you could see serious Democratic gains in the next midterms and even a progressive Democratic president in 2020.

But, ultimately, I don't think that will happen because, unlike Mr. Ryan & Company, Trump couldn't possibly care less about policy. In fact, I don't think he really believes anything about anything. (Except maybe lowering taxes on the rich.) Just look at his stance on any other issue: he's been all over the map!

So it will be interesting to watch. Will Trump outsource domestic policy to his vice president and the Speaker? Or will he just react to the latest poll numbers that come in? (I think that question answers itself.)

I mean, come on, privatize Medicare and cut Social Security benefits? Good luck with that! While it might make a lot of sense when Ryan is dining with billionaires like Cliff Asness, it won't to Trump's voters. No way! And as another Republican president might say, "Go ahead; make my day!"

Friday, December 16, 2016

Bernard Fox, who played...

...Colonel Crittendon on Hogan’s Heroes, died at age 89. Great show.

We didn't have an Urban Hike...

...this week and probably won't have one next Wednesday so I'm glad we already had two "Christmas"-themed Hikes this month.

The first was two weeks ago, on November 30, the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving. The guys (Alan, Jack and John) and I set out from 1212 W. Flournoy at five o'clock in the afternoon and walked east on Harrison Street.

We crossed the bridge over the Chicago River (which has an incredible view of the skyline, by the way -- I wish my iPhone's camera would do it justice!) just beyond the new post office, turned left at State Street and right on Congress and ate dinner at Cafecito, a "coffeehouse specializing in pressed Cuban sandwiches plus salads, platters and more in modern digs." The chain is both affordable (I try real hard to keep the dinner tab under ten bucks) and a nod to Fidel Castro, who died just five days before. (Despite what some people might think, I am not a Communist; the Cuban restaurant was just on the way to Michigan Avenue.)

After dinner we then "saddled 'em up" again and walked north on Michigan Avenue to see the Christmas lights. (Not "Holiday" lights, "Christmas" lights -- Trump won, remember?)

It's hard to take pictures of everything (my battery only lasts so long) and the guys get a little impatient when I stop to admire the sights, but among other things we passed the beautiful Christmas tree at the top of this post near the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink (I didn't even know it had a name) in Millennium Park. I'm pretty sure we were there last year for its lighting.

Farther up Michigan Avenue, at Randolph, I looked to my right and saw the Prudential Plaza, which was bathed in a gorgeous blue light that I assumed was in honor of the Cubs. (Remember them?) I think my brother-in-law once told me that when he was in high school in the mid-1960s the 41-story building was the tallest in town. Now it's just another skyscraper.

When we approached the river (again) I looked up to see that practically everyone was getting into the Christmas spirit, but especially the Wrigley Building.

Inspired by the Giralda tower of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See in Seville, Spain, the beautiful terra cotta structure rises 425 feet and was completed in 1924. When ground was broken in 1920, there were no major office buildings north of the Chicago River and the Michigan Avenue Bridge we were crossing was still under construction.

I wish I could have gotten a better shot of the top.

But I did get a decent one of the guys in front of a Christmas tree between the two towers.

We continued our Hike up Michigan Avenue, past the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, completed in 1925; 430 N. Michigan (Bob Newhart's office building from his eponymous 1970s sitcom); the eclectic (I would say Art Deco) Hotel InterContinental (1929); past all the fancy "Magnificent Mile" shops; the Allerton Hotel (with its Tip Top Tap; don't bother dropping in for a cocktail, I tried once -- it closed in 1961); all the way to the historic Water Tower, built in 1869 and one of the very few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. (Did you know it inspired the design of the White Castle hamburger chain?)

Finally, after a quick bathroom break at Water Tower Place across the street, the guys and I turned west on Oak Street, ogling all the high-end boutiques there before heading north on Rush toward the Red Line stop at Clark and Division. All in all, it was about a four-mile Hike; I'd say par for the course. (Couldn't resist snapping that one last shot at the corner of Dearborn and Elm.)

Last week we (left to right: Jack, Alan, Bradon, Ryan and John) braved colder temperatures and zigzagged the two miles or so to the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Under the watchful eyes of the massive 50-foot Picasso sculpture, we dined (Alan always insists on using the verb "dine") on bratwurst and leberkaese (Germany's answer to Spam) with sauerkraut, stuffed gourmet pretzels and snowballs (fresh, hot donut holes sprinkled with powdered sugar -- yum!) washed down with hot chocolate or hot apple cider. (As you can see, food is a big part of these Hikes.)

But it wasn't all about eating; I was careful to point out my "houses of worship trifecta": the Chicago Loop Synagogue on Clark, St. Peter's in the Loop on Madison and, of course, the Chicago Temple across the street from Daley Plaza on Washington. I could give you a run-down of these landmarks but couldn't really come close to this post on one of my favorite blogs, A Chicago Sojourn.

After dinner Alan and Bradon hopped on the Red Line at State, Jack and Ryan on the Blue Line at Dearborn, while John and I marched the two miles back into a driving wind from the west (no wonder it was so easy walking east). It was moderately painful, to be sure, but at least we got our four miles in.

So what does the New Year have in store for our intrepid little band of Hikers? Even I don't know, but the possibilities are limitless. Won't you join us sometime? We leave 1212 W. Flournoy at 5:00 pm sharp, weather permitting. Bring your Ventra card and some money for dinner.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“Now I’m starting to get a little hangry.”

About a month ago, a few...

...days after the election, I wrote a post on how I was feeling about Donald Trump's astonishing upset of Hillary Clinton. As of today, after seeing the kind of people he's picked for his administration so far and hearing the latest news about Russia's meddling in our election, I'm far less sanguine. In fact, I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. (Or was is just Sunday-itis?)

First, did Vladimir Putin try to swing the election for Trump? At this date it sure seems like it. (When I check in with you in another month or so we should know a lot more.) But unlike many of my liberal brethren I don't believe Russia -- or the infamous Comey letter -- made the difference. (Hillary was just a piss-poor candidate and Trump was "lightning in a bottle.") And, unlike the "hard" sciences, we can't test the counterfactual in a lab; we just get to argue about it for the rest of our lives. But here's the big question I have about "Russia"? Why did they want Trump to win the election? Oh, sure, Putin hates Hillary, but I wonder if there's more to the story than just that. I think we'll find out eventually, but in the meantime, I'll leave you with this one thought on the subject: there is something very, very weird about Donald Trump and Russia. (Is he in hock to their banks or something? What is it?) Again, I don't know yet, but Trump's selection of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state -- a guy with absolutely no experience for the job whatsoever -- just makes things seem "curiouser and curiouser."

Second, there's Trump's White House staff and Cabinet. Talk about a "basket of deplorables"! Good God, where do you begin? Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Steve Mnuchin, Andy Puzder, Ben Carson, Michael Flynn, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt -- this has to be the most extreme Cabinet ever! Seriously. Saint Ronald Reagan would be jealous. Is Donald Trump really a closet ideologue? Has he been fooling us all this time? Or did he just sub out the job to Mike Pence, Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan? Sure looks like it. The question now is, will he also sub out policy to his Cabinet or just ignore them and continue being bombastic Donald Trump? (I guess that question answers itself.)

Next we have Trump's ongoing habit of outright lying (in practically every sentence), his violation of norms (and the media's "normalizing" of him and his administration) and the conflicts of interest with his business holdings. Aye Yai Yai! (I'll let other, smarter people deal with those topics.)

But let's game out the next four years (with an extreme amount of humility, especially after this election). How do I think it will play out?

Well, if you'll recall, I was worried that a Hillary Clinton election would be incredibly poorly timed with the business cycle. Notwithstanding this recent stock market rally (which I do not at all trust, by the way), the economic expansion since the spring of 2009 is getting a little long in the tooth. Just like George H. W. Bush, I thought Mrs. Clinton would have the misfortune of getting elected just in time for a recession and have to run for reelection with that as a backdrop (with the same results as Bush 41). Couple that with the absolutely horrendous midterm map in 2018 and the Democrats could have lost even more seats in the House and Senate and things would have looked even rosier for a President Marco Rubio, say, in 2020. Then, he would have appointed a far-right Cabinet much like Trump's but would have definitely taken the country in an extreme libertarian direction. Agita!

But Hillary didn't win, remember? Trump did.

So what happens now? Well, again, predictions are tricky, especially with Trump, but I'm fairly confident that the white working class that so loyally supported him will end up sadly disappointed. Let's face it, Trump isn't going to bring back their jobs, he's not going to build that wall and he's not going to deport 11 million people. And that trillion-dollar infrastructure project? Please. Do you really think Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress is going to go for that? No; technology, trade and globalization will continue on as before and the WWC will continue to suffer. What's more, if his Cabinet choices are any indication, they will also have less in the way of a safety net, so they'll get hit from both sides. Trump's crew is bound and determined to not only repeal the Affordable Care Act (which they will be in no hurry to replace, by the way), but also severely cut Social Security and Medicare.* The only things we can be absolutely sure of with Trump (beyond metaphysical certitude, as John McLaughlin used to say) is that he'll cut regulations and slash taxes -- dramatically -- for the one percent. So here's my other Big Question of the day: What happens when Trump's voters find out they've been had?

But, again, it remains to be seen how Trump will actually govern. Does he follow his Cabinet choices down the Ryan road to dystopia, or does he govern as a pragmatist? Either way, if we get that recession in the next two to four years those 2018 midterms may surprise everyone and actually be good for Democrats (anything's possible nowadays). And, if Trump does let the ideologues in his party run wild, we could end up with a younger, more charismatic version of Bernie Sanders in 2020 -- one that could actually win. (Who, exactly, would that individual be? How should I know? Did anyone see the coming of Barack Obama in 2008 or take Trump seriously in 2015? No and no.) So if the Republicans actually do repeal the ACA (and that's not a slam dunk) don't be too surprised if the next Democratic administration passes Medicare-for-all. (And a whole lot of other progressive legislation.)

So those are the keys, I think, for the next four years: how does Trump actually govern and in what economic environment? He's been a political genius so far, but what happens if he doesn't "deliver the goods" and his supporters turn on him? No one is bullet-proof forever -- no one. Then what? The other 99 percent of us could turn to a real populist next time -- that younger version of Bernie Sanders I was talking about -- and the country could veer sharply left. Could happen.

* A little free advice for Republicans which I'm sure they won't take: Beware of overreaching.

Friday, December 9, 2016

John Glenn died...

...yesterday at age 95. If you haven't seen The Right Stuff, you really should. And if you have, but haven't read the book by Tom Wolfe, you really should. (If you've done both then you know what I'm talking about.) From Glenn's New York Times obit:

Tom Wolfe wrote of that time in the best-selling 1979 book “The Right Stuff,” a phrase for coolness in the face of danger that has passed into the idiom. He described Mr. Glenn as excessively pious, scolding his fellow astronauts about their after-hours escapades while openly lobbying to be the first of them to fly.

“He looked like a balding and slightly tougher version of the cutest-looking freckle-faced country boy you ever saw,” Mr. Wolfe wrote. “He had a snub nose, light-hazel eyes, reddish-blond hair and a terrific smile.”

Mr. Glenn said he liked the book but not the 1983 movie based on it, in which he was portrayed by Ed Harris. “Most of his account was reasonably factual, although I was neither the pious saint nor the other guys the hellions he made them into,” he told Life magazine in 1998. “Hollywood made a charade out of the story and caricatures out of the people in it.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The chart of the day...

...is from a post, "Economic growth in the United States: A tale of two countries." I think it goes a long way to explaining how we ended up with a President Trump (my emphasis):

First, our data show that the bottom half of the income distribution in the United States has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s. From 1980 to 2014, average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States, yet the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of individual income earners stagnated at about $16,000 per adult after adjusting for inflation. In contrast, income skyrocketed at the top of the income distribution, rising 121 percent for the top 10 percent, 205 percent for the top 1 percent, and 636 percent for the top 0.001 percent. 

It’s a tale of two countries. For the 117 million U.S. adults in the bottom half of the income distribution, growth has been non-existent for a generation while at the top of the ladder it has been extraordinarily strong. And this stagnation of national income accruing at the bottom is not due to population aging. Quite the contrary: For the bottom half of the working-age population (adults below 65), income has actually fallen. In the bottom half of the distribution, only the income of the elderly is rising. From 1980 to 2014, for example, none of the growth in per-adult national income went to the bottom 50 percent, while 32 percent went to the middle class (defined as adults between the median and the 90th percentile), 68 percent to the top 10 percent, and 36 percent to the top 1 percent. An economy that fails to deliver growth for half of its people for an entire generation is bound to generate discontent with the status quo and a rejection of establishment politics.

Because the pre-tax incomes of the bottom 50 percent stagnated while average national income per adult grew, the share of national income earned by the bottom 50 percent collapsed from 20 percent in 1980 to 12.5 percent in 2014. Over the same period, the share of incomes going to the top 1 percent surged from 10.7 percent in 1980 to 20.2 percent in 2014. As shown in Figure 2, these two income groups basically switched their income shares, with about 8 points of national income transferred from the bottom 50 percent to the top 1 percent. The gains made by the 1 percent would be large enough to fully compensate for the loss of the bottom 50 percent, a group 50 times larger.

To understand how unequal the United States is today, consider the following fact. In 1980, adults in the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than bottom 50 percent of adults. Today they earn 81 times more. This ratio of 1 to 81 is similar to the gap between the average income in the United States and the average income in the world’s poorest countries, among them the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Burundi. Another alarming trend evident in this data is that the increase in income concentration at the top in the United States over the past 15 years is due to a boom in capital income. It looks like the working rich who drove the upsurge in income concentration in the 1980s and 1990s are either retiring to live off their capital income or passing their fortunes onto heirs.

(I guess I could have added emphasis to the whole thing.)

But this is what I tried to tell my brother once: just as Jean Valjean stole that bread he couldn't afford, so did those who lost out in the economy eventually rebel and elect a demagogue like Donald Trump.

Now my next question is, what happens when Trump fails to deliver on his promise to make America great again for the white working class (as he surely will)? Although he's a master manipulator of people that may only get him so far. Then what?

Remember: The Revolution devours its children.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

If Mitt Romney doesn't...

...get chosen by President-elect Trump to be Secretary of State after all the Donald has put him through (which is more than likely at this point), I bet he wishes that recent, semi-public dinner he had with Reince Priebus and Trump went more like this scene from The Godfather.

Van Williams, who played...

...the Green Hornet in the 1966-67 ABC series of the same name, died at age 82.

The theme for the show was, ironically, Rimsky-Korsakov's, "Flight of the Bumblebee," performed by Al Hirt. While everyone knows the bumblebee and hornet are both members of the Insecta class, they are entirely different members of the order Hymenoptera. Sheesh.

Judge Learned Hand...

...died on Saturday at age 88.

Oops! My bad. Apparently it was a judge Leonard Sand, not Learned Hand, that passed away. Never mind.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Milt Moss, who uttered...

...the famous line “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing” in a memorable commercial for Alka-Seltzer in 1972, died at age 93.

Whatever happened to Alka-Seltzer anyway? Those commercials were a big deal when I was young. Did people just stop overeating or something?

Last week I wondered...

...in a post what kind of president Donald Trump would end up being.

I figured that the Donald (yeah, I still call him that) would, above all else, want to be considered "successful" and that "successful" for him would be defined as having high approval numbers. And how would he get there? By doing popular things, of course. What popular things? Well, cutting taxes is an easy one. (Everyone loves getting something for nothing; we'll worry about those pesky budget deficits another time.)

In his New York Times column on Saturday, Ross Douthat had an interesting take on Trump along these same lines.

(His piece, by the way, redeemed somewhat one of his weakest columns ever last Wednesday, and the one before that which dealt in extreme Catholic Church esoterica. Welcome back, Mr. Douthat!)

Douthat asks the question which I -- and I'm sure many others -- have been asking ever since Trump's astounding upset almost a month ago: What happens when his voters realize they've been had, i. e., when Trump doesn't "bring back" their jobs?

Paul Krugman, for his part, suggests Trump will find a distraction (all emphasis mine):

And if and when the reality that workers are losing ground starts to sink in, I worry that the Trumpists will do what authoritarian governments often do to change the subject away from poor performance: go find an enemy.

And that's a distinct possibility.

But Douthat has a different and more prosaic answer:

It is possible for policy makers to raise take-home pay directly even without big boosts in the underlying wages. Cutting payroll taxes would do it. The earned-income tax credit does it. Middle-class tax cuts do it. Child tax credits do it. A wage subsidy would do it. The list of possibilities is long.

Several of those possibilities are immediately available to Trump, if he wants to reach for them. His daughter’s child-care subsidy could be reconfigured to deliver more to the working class; it could be combined with the larger earned-income tax credit envisioned by Paul Ryan or the wage subsidy that Marco Rubio is championing, and both could be folded into a tax reform that makes good on Trump’s Treasury nominee’s recent promise to prioritize middle-class tax cuts over tax cuts for the rich.

None of this would solve the long-term dilemma of slow wage growth. But it would make it immediately easier, often to the tune of thousands of dollars a year, for Americans who aren’t employed by companies amenable to Trumpian jawboning to pay bills, raise children, take vacations, and pursue the American Dream.

And I think this is the most likely scenario for a Trump administration. For one thing, it would follow any Republican's playbook: First, do no harm cut taxes. Everything else is negotiable.

You watch: Trump won't bring back white working class jobs, won't build a wall along the Mexican border, won't deport eleven million undocumented immigrants, won't tear up NAFTA or the nuclear treaty with Iran, won't embark on a trillion dollar infrastructure plan, won't eliminate ISIS, won't -- thankfully -- repeal the Affordable Care Act or privatize Medicare, or a whole slew of other things that he promised to do on the campaign trail. In fact, I'll bet Trump's only real accomplishment (if you can call it that) is to lower everyone's taxes. Sure, it will result in larger budget deficits*, but who cares? Let the next (Democratic) president worry about that.

* Here's something you won't hear from the Republican Congress in the next four years: lower taxes = lower revenue.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“I know you really like ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ Sire, but for the sake of appearances, what about ‘Ivan the Alt-Right’?”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Michael James Delligatti, a...

...McDonald’s franchise owner who created the Big Mac, died at age 98.

Grant Tinker, who...

...produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died at age 90.

(That's the original theme song from Season One in 1970.)

When it comes to Donald Trump...

...it's a little like that story of the blind men and the elephant.

Who is this Trump guy anyway? What will he be like as president? Will he govern like he campaigned, as a populist? Or will he be more like a traditional Republican and serve the one percent? Does he want to protect Social Security and Medicare like he said during the campaign? Or will he turn around and sign whatever legislation Paul Ryan sends to his desk? In foreign policy, will he be an isolationist? Or will he "bomb the shit" out of ISIS? Will he support NATO? Or cozy up to Putin? Will he continue tweeting in the middle of the night? Or will he -- at long last -- pivot and act more "presidential"? How on earth will he conduct himself in the Oval Office? How will he govern? Who, after all, is Donald Trump?

Face it: if anyone else had been elected president -- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, anyone -- you and I would have a very good idea what their priorities would be and how they would govern. But Trump? He's like that elephant in the picture above and we are all blind.

But here's one clue. Frank Bruni of the New York Times was on Charlie Rose recently. And if he didn't put it exactly this way, my takeaway was that Trump -- if nothing else -- wants to succeed at this job.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, "Of course, he wants to succeed! Who wouldn't?" But I would maintain that a Paul Ryan, for instance, would want more than anything else to push a libertarian agenda if he were elected president. I think he'd rather fail while trying than to "succeed" without trying.

So the next question is (and I think Bruni got at this a little), What would "success" look like for Donald Trump? And the answer is, good poll numbers. Remember, this is the most insecure guy you will ever see in your life. Let me repeat that: Donald Trump is the most insecure person ever. What does he want more than anything else in the world? Respect, approval, good television ratings. I'll say that Trump's definition of success is leaving office in four or eight years with the highest approval ratings ever.

And how does he achieve that? By doing popular things, of course. Like saving jobs in Indiana.* And cutting taxes. Your taxes, my taxes, anyone's and everyone's taxes. Republicans just lovelovelove to cut taxes, don't they? (And as for that pesky national debt, well, the next guy can deal with that.) What else is popular? I don't know -- you fill in the blank.

But I can tell you what's not popular: taking away anyone's health care, whether it's from repealing the Affordable Care Act or privatizing Medicare. Those two things, for example, just don't poll well. And so a guy who lost the popular vote is unlikely to do anything that would hurt his poll numbers. Sign a repeal of the ACA or legislation to end Medicare? I think Trump would be much more likely to slap down a Paul Ryan and bask in everyone's adoration at poor Mr. Ryan's expense. Take one for the team? What team? Donald Trump is a Team of One.

My best guess right now is that Trump governs according to polls and what makes him most popular. (Now give me back that blindfold.)

* Although I have to repeat this tweet from Paul Krugman yesterday: Trump would have to do one Carrier-sized deal a week for 30 years to save as many jobs as Obama's auto bailout. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I think it was Emily Post...

...who famously said, "Never discuss religion or politics in polite company."

Or was it some guy named Haliburton? No matter; when I was a kid I heard that a lot. But I never payed any attention to it, obviously -- until now.

I don't remember if I ever actually heard my parents say that, but I distinctly remember them never discussing religion with anyone, particularly anyone who wasn't Catholic. And why would they? Didn't the religious wars of the Middle Ages settle once and for all that no one was going to change anyone else's mind on the subject? For example, when I was very young I was best friends with the kid next door whose family was -- gulp -- Presbyterian. Now, can you imagine my parents knocking on their door and trying to convince them of papal infallibility? It would have been unheard of! (Another common saying when I was young was, "You go to your church and I'll go to mine.")

So by the time I came along in the latter half of the Baby Boom Americans of different religions had pretty much decided to live among each other without discussing the subject. As I said, it would have been considered bad manners (and futile) to try and change anyone's mind on something we just plain believed in because we just plain believed it. So while we went to Mass on Sundays our neighbors went to their churches, and that really exotic group, Jews, went to something called Synagogue. But we all managed to live together relatively peacefully. And why wouldn't we? For the other six days of the week we went about our secular lives without any need to talk or even think about religion.

But politics was a different story. Until now.

You're probably wondering why I put a picture of fruit at the top of this post. And the reason is that I've been thinking and saying a lot lately that if someone were to put some fruit on a table in the middle of a room and two or more people were asked to paint a picture of it you would get as many different paintings as you have painters, depending on everyone's level of skill and, more importantly, their view of reality. Everyone, of course, would paint the different pieces of fruit in different order depending on where they saw them from where they sat in the room. Also, while some might choose to depict the fruit as realistically as possible others might express themselves more abstractly. But you get the idea: everyone would have a different view of the fruit and everyone would paint it differently.

And the truth is that politics is no different from that fruit -- or religion. We all bring our own assumptions, prejudices and beliefs to the subject. (Either you believe, for example, that the government has a role to play in the economy or you don't -- there's really no point in us arguing over that. It's axiomatic.) And nowadays, you can not only hold your own beliefs and opinions but you get to have your own facts and reality. In this age of the Internet, you can read only those things that you already agree with and that reinforce your views. (You know what I'm talking about.)

But when you go and try to talk to somebody about politics, well, you might as well be trying to talk to my old neighbors about that papal infallibility thing -- it's really a waste of time. If you're like me you've just given up (honest!) on even engaging others on the subject when you know if their politics are different from yours. For example, I have an unspoken understanding with my sister and a woman I work with that we just won't even discuss politics at all (although it does limit our conversations quite a bit). But it's just easier that way: I'm not going to change their minds and they're not going to change mine. Heck, sometimes we can't even agree on the facts! Take, for example, that mass shooting in Florida a while back. While liberals like me would say it was just some nutcase with a gun who went in and shot up a gay nightclub, conservatives would argue that it was a terrorist attack. How can we discuss something when we can't even agree on what happened?

So people today try to have family gatherings like Thanksgiving with people who agree with them politically. It's just easier, isn't it? Protestants, Catholics and Jews (and Muslims) can break bread together as long as they don't disagree on politics. It's funny (or not funny); I've heard that parents care more about the politics of their kids' spouses than anything else. And it's true in at least my case: as someone who was raised as a Catholic I couldn't care less that my son is marrying a Jew. The important thing is that she and her parents are not Republicans -- that would really make things uncomfortable!

There's only one problem with not discussing politics in the way we don't debate religion though. As the saying goes, we can each go to our own house of worship on Sunday (or not) and still get together just fine for the other six days of the week. But how on earth do we live together when politics determines almost everything that happens -- taxes, war, even birth control -- in the real world? That's the hard part.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Al Caiola, who recorded...

...the themes from the westerns The Magnificent Seven and Bonanza, died at age 96.

Florence Henderson, who starred...

...in the 1970s sitcom The Brady Bunch, died at age 82. From her obit in the Times:

Ms. Henderson was making a film in Norway in 1969 when she was asked to appear in the pilot episode of “The Brady Bunch,” an unapologetically upbeat comedy about a widow with three daughters who meets, marries and makes a sunny suburban California home with a widower who has three sons. The series ran from September 1969 to March 1974, attracting viewers during a period of extreme social change and the Vietnam War, neither of which touched the Bradys’ world.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of this show when I was young. I even made a pilgrimage in 2015 to the original house in Studio City.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I've been married...

...for thirty years -- today -- to a woman who grew up in Milwaukee. So, for over thirty years -- 32 to be exact, I guess -- I've been going up to the Cream City for holidays, weddings, funerals, etc. Also, for over 35 years I've been driving through Wisconsin to Minnesota where I finished high school and college and still have a couple of brothers. So, for someone who's never lived in the state I sure have spent a lot of time in Wisconsin. And Emma Roller's piece in the New York Times this morning, "Not Your Grandmother’s Wisconsin," really hit home. Except I would have titled it more like, "Not Even My Wife’s Wisconsin."

I've talked about this before, but I suppose ever since the Braves left Milwaukee back in 1965 (and probably earlier), the entire state of Wisconsin has been in a prolonged economic slump. I don't know why -- maybe it's tough being situated between ginormous Chicago and forward-thinking Minneapolis -- but Milwaukee and the rest of the state seem to be in a long, slow decline. Trust me, it's palpable.

So I wasn't so terribly surprised that Wisconsin -- along with Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and, of course, Indiana -- all went for Trump in the election. Oh, sure, I believed in the "Blue Wall," but I've often wondered how long it would be before the Rust Belt began to realize its best days have come and gone -- and turn red. Deeper and deeper red. I mean, all you have to do is drive through any of those states (and upstate New York, which I used to pass through on my way to taking my son to college in New Hampshire) and you'll see downtowns that have been absolutely decimated and depressed people with the hollow looks of those who have been left behind by technology and globalization.

Wisconsin, in particular, is the victim of a double-whammy: not only is the countryside suffering through another Great Depression, but the city of Milwaukee and its suburbs have developed a terrible, terrible racism problem. What was once a progressive hotbed (remember Bob La Follette and William Proxmire?) now more resembles Mississippi. People I met up there 30 years ago now talk a lot differently -- a lot differently -- about African Americans. It's really discouraging.

So when Scott Walker, Ron Johnson and Reince Priebus all emerged around 2010-11 I wasn't so surprised. After all, Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan had already been representing Wisconsin since 1999. As I wrote four years ago -- in June, 2012:

The economy in Wisconsin, if it ever was anything special, has long been lost to history. The emergence in the Badger State of such tea partiers as Scott Walker, Ron Johnson and Paul Ryan only confirm to me that Wisconsin may have already evolved into a red state. What does that mean? Like other red states, such as Indiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, Wisconsin is gradually becoming a ward of the federal government. In other words, like most red states, it will receive more from the federal government than it sends to Washington in taxes. Stuck between prosperous Minneapolis and Chicago, Wisconsin is resembling -- more and more -- Indiana.

If you'll notice, by the way, in the Midwest only Minnesota and Illinois -- home to economic powerhouses Minneapolis and Chicago -- stayed blue in this election. They, along with California, New York, Virginia, Colorado and really every other prosperous state will now have the privilege of supporting their red state brethren.

So, no, the Dairy State is no longer your grandmother’s Wisconsin. That's for sure. But it's not even the Wisconsin of the 1990s, '80s, '70s or beyond. It's now part of a region in permanent decline. And all that's left for its residents to do is root for the Badgers and the Packers. It's a shame.

Monday, November 21, 2016

How does a nice-looking...

...young man like the one above, who grew up in an affluent section of Dallas, went to a fancy prep school there and has degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago, grow up to be a leader of the alt-right?

(The alt-right, in case you don't know, has been defined as a "movement with white identity as its core idea." You'd be forgiven if you equated it with "white nationalism," or "white supremacy," or even -- what the heck -- "neo-Nazism.")

That kid, Richard Spencer, is now 38 years old and coined the term "alt-right" back in 2008. (You can read more about him in Mother Jones and today's New York Times.)

While I usually think of neo-Nazis or members of the Ku Klux Klan as "losers," this guy was the son of an ophthalmologist who played varsity football and baseball in high school and hung out with the popular crowd. What would have made him become so angry? Spencer then went on to get his bachelor's degree from UVA and a master's from the U of C. So he's obviously no dummy, either.

So how, I wonder -- I really do -- did this guy go down the strange road to white supremacy instead of growing up to become a doctor, like his father, or a lawyer or an investment banker like all his peers? How does a nice kid like the one in the picture above turn into a total nut job like the one below? (That's called a "fashy" haircut, by the way -- long on top, buzzed on the sides. "Fashy" is short for "fascism" -- seriously.)

It's really something I'd like to pursue. Oh, and prepare to hear a lot more about this guy in the coming days and weeks. (Steve Bannon, Trump's "brain," is also a member of the alt-right.)

P. S. These are really weird times we're living in, aren't they?

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“Turns out you can normalize anything these days.”

A note to readers.

If you feel like I haven't been writing as much lately, I think you're right. And I think it's due to a number of factors.

First off, if I don't have anything original to say on a given topic I don't say anything at all. If I've written about something in the past that reminded you of something you read somewhere else it just means that you got to it before I did. Or, it could mean that we've all digested the same views or opinions and incorporated them into our own. But if I write about something that I've consciously read somewhere else I try to provide a link to the original. If I don't -- and I'm sure I haven't at some point -- then it's an honest mistake on my part.

And, really, what could I have possibly written about Donald Trump or the Cubs that hadn't already been said -- many times -- elsewhere? Although I was prompted to write about both (click here and here) after one of my readers texted me, "I feel like any thoughts from a personal perspective are original by definition."

And that provides me with a convenient segue into another reason I haven't been writing as much lately: I just don't wake up with that burning desire to Tell the World What I Think about whatever issue is in the news that day. Does that mean I'm not as opinionated as I used to be? Ha! Hardly. I think it's more a function of being sleep-deprived due to a new work schedule which leaves me getting six or fewer hours of sleep most nights. Even though I try to take a nap in the afternoon it just doesn't seem to be enough. I'm not complaining, mind you -- I have an easy job and an easy life. It's just that I've always functioned best on at least seven or eight hours of sleep. So instead of waking up Loaded for Bear like I used to it's all I can do to just scroll bleary-eyed through Twitter for much of the morning.

Which brings me to another reason. Like many bloggers over the years, I find myself migrating more and more to Twitter. And what would have been a blog post in the past is now often a Tweet storm. Is this good or bad? And is it permanent? I don't know. I do know, however, that Twitter is one of the most valuable things on the Internet. (Although the market doesn't agree with me.) You can follow so many interesting people and read so many links to interesting pieces -- I really love it! And Twitter, I'm convinced, is its own new, unique literary form. (Stop laughing!) Really. Not only has Donald Trump adopted it much in the way FDR used radio or JFK television, but many of the people I follow have practically elevated it to an art form just by using 140 characters or less in an innovative and clever way. (If you want to know what I'm talking about just start by following @jbarro or @davidfrum.)

Finally, there's high school football. If you're wondering why I'm not writing so much about it it's because in part I've tried to distance myself a little. After years of going to so many games (I recall once telling someone I had been to 22 -- and that was before the playoffs were even over!) I've been consciously cutting down since moving back to the city two and a half years ago. A corollary to this is that I think I'm genuinely losing interest. Has the quality of Illinois high school football gone down? Coaches have told me the numbers are off considerably; this would have to affect the quality at some point, wouldn't it? Or maybe I've just gotten my fill and am moving on with my life. I don't know.

But I do know that I'm still here dammit. And I hope to keep writing and I hope you continue to read my rants about Whatever. To those of you who read this blog, thanks for indulging me. And to those of you who have responded in some way, thanks for the feedback.