Sunday, January 31, 2016

It's Day Three...

...of my tribute to the late Paul Kantner. (I'm almost done.) Here's one more song he co-wrote with Marty Balin, "Volunteers," performed here at Woodstock.

The song was the title track from the 1969 album which was the group's last. Co-founder Balin and drummer Spencer Dryden left after its release while Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen split off to form the unfortunately-named Hot Tuna. (I read somewhere that Kaukonen originally wanted to call the new band "Hot Shit" but the suits at the recording studios understandably objected.)

The album:

...was originally intended to be Volunteers of Amerika, a corruption of Volunteers of America, an American version of the Salvation Army charity; the term 'Amerika' was then in vogue as a sardonic expression of dissatisfaction with the USA. However the charity objected, so the title was shortened to Volunteers.

The song (my emphasis): a call to take a stand against the US government and the war in Vietnam. In a 1993 interview with Relix, Balin explained: "It became political but it didn't start out that way. I had woken up to the sound of garbage cans crashing outside the mansion and looked out, and there was this Volunteers of America truck, so I wrote that down and gave it to Paul and he wrote the song. Bang. People put all kinds of meaning into it."

It's funny, the inspiration for many of the Airplane's songs -- science fiction novels, everyday annoyances -- were quite a bit removed from what people like my parents most feared from rock 'n' roll in the 1960s: anarchy, revolution, nihilism. Maybe the music just sounded good. Still does.

When I wrote this... a couple of week ago and reread the following passage: makes me wonder, if people have $100 million to throw around like that, are taxes on the rich too low? Think about it: Is that the best possible use to society of that money? Someone tweeted to me this week that "the private sector is much more efficient at spending money." And I'll admit, when I was an Ayn Rand-sympathizing libertarian, I used to think that way too. But, nowadays, especially when I read about examples like the Pritzkers and Northwestern, I'm not so sure anymore. I repeat: Is that really the best use of $100 million? Or might it be better spent on -- oh, I don't know -- shoring up the safety net?

I think I leaned back in my chair, shook my head, and thought something along the lines of, "Boy, if my thirty- or even forty-something libertarian self knew how he'd think in his mid- to late-fifties, what on earth would he say?" And, I'll admit, there are times when I ask myself how someone who cast his very first-ever vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1976 Minnesota caucuses could become such a bomb-throwing liberal. (I have some ideas, but I still have to laugh at myself sometimes.)

But then this morning I read an interview in the New York Times Magazine with arch-conservative Hugh Hewitt -- who worked in the Reagan administration* -- and my eyes bulged right out of my head. Check this out (my emphasis):

Question: Most Americans think we should raise taxes on the rich, but the Republican candidates don’t, except Trump, who has said he would consider it. 

Hugh Hewitt: I asked him about a wealth tax, and he said no. But I find that concentration of wealth in Silicon Valley deeply disturbing. Those billionaires are very smart, but they moved to Silicon Valley at the right time. Someone was going to invent Facebook. I’m glad Mark Zuckerberg did it, but it wasn’t an act of genius; it’s an act of timing. Should he have tens of billions of dollars?

Q: That’s a pretty radical position for a conservative. 

HH: I don’t think it’s very good for the society to have billionaires. It creates envy. And envy destroys republics.

Q: So you’d say to the Silicon Valley elite, ‘‘You didn’t build that.’’ 

HH: No. They did build it. I would say, You should keep an enormous amount of money for your entrepreneurial ability and your success. But there is a limit in America to how much any one person is going to have. You don’t need 10 billion dollars. Nobody does. The country does.

Wow! (I'll give you a second to rub your eyes and process that.)

Done? Okay.

So maybe I'm just a product of my times. Maybe we're in a new Gilded Age and the pendulum is just swinging and swinging me right along with it. But you have to admit: something is happening when a conservative Republican like Mr. Hewitt talks like that.

* Can you believe I couldn't find one picture of this guy with the Gipper?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The 19th Century Redundant...

...Name of the Day belongs to Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss, the physician who treated President James A. Garfield after he was shot. From a review in the Times of the upcoming American Experience: Murder of a President (my emphasis):

The poor doctoring Garfield received is now the stuff of legend and is thoroughly, somewhat gruesomely detailed here.

“Even by 1880 standards, Garfield was receiving very questionable medical care,” says Candice Millard, whose book “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” is the basis for the program.

The oddly named Doctor Willard Bliss — yes, Dr. Doctor — comes off as a villain to rival Guiteau, making bad decisions and barring other physicians from assisting or advising. Garfield died that September.

Yesterday I called attention... a story in the Times, "Mentally Disturbed Man Killed Teacher at Harlem Shelter," about a Mr. White who allegedly stabbed to death a Mr. Black. Today, in a follow-up piece, "Two Lives Collide in Fatal Night at a Harlem Shelter," it mentions a Mr. Brown as well (my emphasis):

“If it wasn’t for Deven, chances are I would’ve never gotten into my career,” said Steven Brown, who constantly called into Mr. Black’s radio show as a teenager and is now a reporter with radio station WBUR in Boston.

I think someone is watching just a little too much Quentin Tarantino, don't you?

Paul Kantner is still...

...dead and I'm still grieving. (Can you grieve for someone you've never met? Let's just say I'm "bummed.")

Here's another great tune, "Crown of Creation," that Mr. Kantner wrote.* Like "Wooden Ships," it's about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. (He was really preoccupied with that, wasn't he? But I guess that wouldn't have been so unusual for someone who grew up in the 1950s.) I just like the way it sounds.

From Wikipedia (all emphasis mine):

The title track and second single is one of Paul Kantner's best preserved anthems from the band. The song's rhythm had been played by Kantner ever since his military school days and finally makes an appearance on the album. Its energy reflects the time period in which it was encased. The meaning is supposed to derive from life being created and destroyed through lengths of time, over and over again. Kantner took some phrases from the science-fiction novel "The Chrysalids" and slightly modified them for the composition. When asked in a 1996 interview regarding his use of other's work, Kantner says "I have thousands of influences in literature and find it a turn on to leave a little thing like that for people to find..."

Also from Wikipedia (what did we do before the Internet?):

A few thousand years in the future, post-apocalypse rural Labrador has become a warmer and more hospitable place than it is at present. The inhabitants of Labrador have vague historical recollections of the "Old People," a technologically advanced civilization which existed long ago and which they believe was destroyed when God sent "Tribulation" to the world to punish their forebears' sins. The society that has survived in Labrador is loosely reminiscent of the American frontier during the 18th century, with a level of technology in use similar to the Amish of the present-day United States.

Though the nature of "Tribulation" is not explicitly stated, it is implied that it was a nuclear holocaust, both by the mutations and by the stories of sailors who report blackened, glassy wastes to the south-west where the remains of faintly glowing cities can be seen (presumably the east coast of the US). Sailors venturing too close to these ruins experience symptoms consistent with radiation sickness. A woman from Sealand, a character with evident knowledge of the Old People's technology, mentions "the power of gods in the hands of children."

The song "Crown of Creation" by Jefferson Airplane was inspired by the novel. Its title and lyrics are drawn from the text and plot with permission from Wyndham. One example lifted almost verbatim from the text reflects a philosophical explanation by the Sealand woman: "But life is change, that is how it differs from rocks, change is its very nature." This line is rendered in the lyrics as "Life is change—How it differs from the rocks." The portion of the song that reads: "In loyalty to their kind / they cannot tolerate our minds. / In loyalty to our kind / we cannot tolerate their obstruction" is from an explanation by the Sealand woman that asserts the inevitability of conflict between a more advanced species and its less advanced progenitors. (The book's original phrase is "they cannot tolerate our rise.")

And, no, I didn't know any of that until just now.

* The video is from a 1968 appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. And, if you're too young to know what that was, click here. It was a big deal in the 1960s.

It's the Internet Era, and... case you don't know what that means, it means you can go to bed early on Thursday night and miss the Republican debate and Donald Trump's rally across town and still get caught up just fine the next day.

And that's what I did. And do you know what I found out? After watching a few of the clips (has anyone in America not seen the one of Ted Cruz above?) and reading everything I could, I've decided that Thursday night's events didn't change anything. (So maybe I was smart to get a good night's sleep.)

Even though I was skeptical of Trump's gamble not to attend the Fox News debate (it still doesn't feel right in my gut), I'm almost completely alone in thinking that. Nearly everyone -- no, everyone -- thought Trump won the night. And far be it from me to question the Donald's strategy. Like almost everyone else in America, I've been wrong about Trump's chances so far, while almost every move he's made has worked out just fine for him.

Never mind the polls -- they're highly unreliable. Look at the betting markets instead. They're not perfect -- Intrade predicted Obama would win the New Hampshire primary in 2008 -- but they are the best indicator we have. And, after Thursday night, Paddy Power didn't budge:

Trump, 1/2
Cruz, 6/4
Rubio, 10/1

Now, as everyone will tell you, turnout is huge. If Trump can get his supporters -- many of them first-time voters -- to caucus, he'll win. If not, he'll disappoint. (Same with Sanders on the Democratic side.)

(Just so you know, the weather forecast for Des Moines on Monday is cloudy with a high of 39 degrees and only a 10 percent chance of precipitation. No reason not to go out. Tuesday, on the other hand, has a 100 percent chance of 5-8 inches of snow. Could the weather forecast mean the difference between a Donald Trump presidency or not?)

Finally, everyone is talking about Cruz's ground game, i. e., his campaign's ability to turn out voters. It's pretty much axiomatic these days to say that a winning candidate has to have a good "organization." But I had a Twitter "conversation" with none other than Matthew Dowd recently in which he said that ground game is vastly overrated. And if that's true, Trump should turn his good poll numbers into actual votes.

So I'm going to go with the betting markets and say Trump and Hillary take Iowa.

P. S. The current thinking among the chattering class is that Rubio is going to finish a strong third in Iowa. I'll say one of the stories on Tuesday morning is how he underperformed expectations. I don't get the fascination with this guy; he just doesn't impress me at all. Everyone seems to think Rubio is a great "orator" with an "optimistic" message. Really? How come I don't see that?

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Kraig Kitchin, who just stepped down as CEO of TheBlaze, Glenn Beck's television network.

Could that possibly be his real name?

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Name(s) of the Day...

...are from a tragic story in the Times this morning, "Mentally Disturbed Man Slays Respected Teacher at Harlem Shelter, Police Say."

A black man named Anthony White murdered a white man named Deven Black. What are the odds?

Paul Kantner, a founding...

...member of the Jefferson Airplane, died at age 74.

As a fan of the Airplane and its many offshoots, this is a big loss. Politics -- and everything else -- will just have to wait while I pay tribute to this great artist.

I was only eleven years old in 1969 when the band played at Woodstock, so I obviously missed its glory years. Later, in the late 1980s, I had tickets to see KBC Band at the Vic Theatre on Sheffield. The group, consisting of Kantner, Marty Balin and Jack Casady, cancelled for some reason. (Oh, well; at least I got to see Jerry Garcia play with the Grateful Dead at the Rosemont Horizon around that time.)

Kantner wrote “Wooden Ships,” above, among other songs. Although he is somewhat overshadowed by his ex-wife, Grace Slick, it's still a good version. (That's Casady next to Ms. Slick and Jorma Kaukonen, I believe, on the far right.)

Now I know what you're thinking: Hey, didn't Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young record “Wooden Ships” first? Actually, it was a tie: both bands performed the song in their respective sets at Woodstock.

From Wikipedia:

It was written in 1968 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a boat named "Mayan" owned by Crosby, who composed the music, while Kantner and Stills wrote most of the lyrics.

Due to contractual reasons Kantner was not credited initially.

The song describes the horrors confronting the survivors of a nuclear holocaust in which the two sides have annihilated each other. A man from one side stumbles upon a man (or woman, as in Jefferson Airplane's version) from the other side and asks him/her, "Can you tell me, please, who won?" Since the question has no real meaning in the circumstances or even at all, it is left unanswered. To stay alive, they share purple berries that, presumably, have not been poisoned by radiation. The lyrics beg "silver people on the shoreline" (described by David Crosby as "guys in radiation suits") to "let us be." As wooden ships (whose wooden material includes no metal that could possibly be dangerously irradiated) are carrying the survivors away, radiation poisoning kills those who have not made it aboard. That grim tableau is described thus:

Horror grips us as we watch you die
All we can do is echo your anguished cries
Stare as all human feelings die
We are leaving you don't need us

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Abe Vigoda is (finally) dead... age 94 and everyone is posting the scene from The Godfather in which Tessio finds out he is to be "whacked." Vigoda's obit in the Times even recounts the dialogue:

“Tell Mike it was only business,” he says to Hagen resignedly. “I always liked him.”

Tessio makes a final plea.

“Tom, can you get me off the hook? For old times’ sake?”

Hagen shakes his head; the code must be honored.

“Can’t do it, Sally.”

But why Tessio?

Shortly before his death, Michael's father warned him, "Whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting -- he's the traitor."

Later, at the Godfather's funeral, Tessio sets up the meeting between Michael and Barzini.

Tom Hagen is surprised. "I always thought it woulda been Clemenza, not Tessio."

But Michael knows better. (That's why he's the new godfather.) "It's the smart move; Tessio was always smarter."

Ironically, Vigoda wasn't even Italian:

“I’m really not a Mafia person,” Mr. Vigoda, who was of Russian-Jewish descent, told Vanity Fair magazine in 2009. “I’m an actor who spent his life in the theater. But Francis said, ‘I want to look at the Mafia not as thugs and gangsters but like royalty in Rome.’ And he saw something in me that fit Tessio as one would look at the classics in Rome.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Will Michael Bloomberg...

...make an independent run for the White House? According to a front-page article in the New York Times Sunday:

A longtime Democrat who became a Republican to run for mayor in 2001 and later switched to be an independent, Bloomberg would strongly consider a bid if the general election looked like it could turn into a contest between Sanders and Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. 

So will he? No.

And here's why. First of all, in a new poll the New York billionaire is trailing that other New York billionaire and the 74-year-old socialist from Vermont:

Bernie Sanders, 35 percent
Donald Trump, 34
Michael Bloomberg, 12
Don't know, 19

I know, I know -- it's early. And Mr. Bloomberg's numbers could improve between now and November. I get that. So, for the sake of argument, let's give the former mayor of New York those 19 percent "don't knows." That brings him up to 31 percent -- competitive. I still say he won't run.

Why? Let's look at the last two third-party candidates who made a serious run for the White House, Ross Perot in 1992 and '96, and John Anderson in 1980.


Bill Clinton: 47,401,185 votes, 49.2 percent, 31 states + DC, 379 Electoral votes.
Bob Dole: 39,197,469 votes, 40.7 percent, 19 states, 159 Electoral votes.
Ross Perot: 8,085,294 votes, 8.4 percent, 0 states, 0 Electoral votes.


Clinton: 44,909,806 votes, 43.0 percent, 32 states + DC, 370 Electoral votes.
George H. W. Bush: 39,104,550 votes, 37.5 percent, 18 states, 168 Electoral votes.
Perot: 19,743,821 votes, 18.9 percent, 0 states, 0 Electoral votes.


Ronald Reagan: 43,903,230 votes, 50.8 percent, 44 states, 489 Electoral votes.
Jimmy Carter: 35,480,115 votes, 41.0 percent, 6 states + DC, 49 Electoral votes.
John Anderson: 5,719,850 votes, 6.6 percent, 0 states, 0 Electoral votes.

Anybody see a pattern here? Neither Perot nor Anderson won a single Electoral College vote in three elections. Do you know why? Because neither one carried a single state. And do you know why? Because it's really, really hard for a third-party candidate to win a majority in any one state.

Now, Mr. Bloomberg is a very wealthy man. Very wealthy. And he could easily afford to get on the ballot in every state and run a credible race. But he's also a very successful businessman. Very successful. And he didn't get there by taking bad risks with his own money. I have to think if he takes a good, hard look at it (and he will), he'll conclude that a run for the White House is a fool's errand. Spend a billion dollars of his own money to win zero Electoral votes? I don't think so; he's just too smart and too sensible.

P. S. Trump won't do it either for the same reasons. I don't care how big his ego is, he won't spend a fortune of his own money in a lost cause. He's not that stupid.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“That’ll be best if used by 15FEB16.”

In the wake of the news...

...out of Flint, Michigan, what if I told you that Forrest Claypool and Rahm Emanuel had their own private water supply? Wouldn't it make you just a little uneasy about the water you drink in the city?

"You have nothing to worry about," the mayor might say. "We just have our own private water supply because" . . . why? What could they say that would make you more comfortable about the water you drink, cook with and bathe yourself in every day? I think I'd feel better knowing that they use the same water I use. As they say these days, they would have skin in the game. (Literally.)

So why is it that Messrs. Claypool and Emanuel send their children to private schools? What does that say about CPS? That there's nothing wrong with the Chicago public schools, they're just not good enough for our own kids? Shouldn't the guys running the schools be expected to use the product as well, just like everyone else? Shouldn't they have skin in the game? Ask yourself: If either Rahm's or Claypool's kids attended their local public school, do you have any doubt at all that that particular school would be among the very best in the city?

I'm not saying it should be a law or anything, like the one that requires city cops and firefighters to live in the city, but I think it's a reasonable expectation. I don't necessarily have a problem with private citizens sending their kids to private schools (well, I kinda do), but I just think public servants should use public services. It would be a good custom -- sends the right message.

One of the most admirable things Jimmy Carter did as president was send his daughter Amy to the local public school in Washington, D. C. And if I ever met President Obama it would be the one thing I'd say I was disappointed in him as president. After all, Michelle went to the Chicago Public Schools and she turned out pretty well, right? Why not your own daughters?

P. S. Chicago has an economy roughly the size of Switzerland's. Are you telling me we can't have quality public schools?

What do the Iowa caucuses...

 ...and the monthly unemployment report have in common? While the actual result (or number) is important, of course, it's just as -- if not more -- crucial who over- or under-performs expectations.

For example, it's pretty much a given that the winners and runners-up in both parties will be Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz. Here's the latest from Paddy Power:


Hillary Clinton, 4/6
Bernie Sanders, 11/10


Donald Trump, 2/5
Ted Cruz, 13/8
Marco Rubio, 20/1
Ben Carson, 50/1

And from the Huffington Post:


Clinton, 46.7 percent
Sanders, 43.6


Trump, 30.6
Cruz, 26.0
Rubio, 12.8
Carson, 7.5

So here's the deal: First of all, are we talking about anyone else next Tuesday? Does a Marco Rubio or a Ben Carson somehow finish in the top two? Or a really close third? Or how about someone no one is thinking about, like Jeb? What if he --  somehow -- has a big night?

And what about the actual winners? Does either Clinton or Trump win by double digits? Or does either Sanders or Cruz finish in first? And by how much? If either Sanders or Cruz wins by a comfortable margin, what does that say about Clinton's and/or Trump's prospects going forward? If Bernie should win big in Iowa and New Hampshire, it's hard to see how Hillary comes back. And, similarly, if Trump wins handily in the first two contests, who's going to beat him? And where? Conversely, if Trump's supporters don't show up next week and Cruz defeats him soundly, will the air finally come out of the Donald's balloon?

So while it's important to win next week, it's also important to win the expectations game. That's what we'll be talking about next Tuesday.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Did I just notice...

...that Paddy Power has odds on the next vice presidential candidates too? (Has this been there all along? I don't think so.)

Anyway, Julian Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is the odds-on favorite to be Hillary Clinton's running mate, while South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is Donald Trump's.

Here are the top three in each (with my thoughts in italics):


Julian Castro, 5/2
Young, Hispanic, offsets Marco Rubio.

Tim Kaine, 6/1
I've read that Virginia is expected to be the most crucial state this time around.

Martin O'Malley, 8/1
Consolation prize for working so hard?


Nikki Haley, 4/1
Shores up any Republican candidate with women and people of color.

Marco Rubio, 5/1
Been talked about forever: young, Hispanic and from Florida.

Ted Cruz, 7/1
Only if Cruz comes up short and strikes a deal at the convention.

John Kasich, 7/1
Republicans can't win the White House without Ohio.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lou Michaels, a former...

...NFL kicker, died at age 80.

The All-American from Kentucky missed two field goal attempts for the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. From his obit in the Times:

“I am disgusted with myself,” Michaels told The Washington Post in 1969. “I started out kicking in seventh grade. I get all the way to the Super Bowl and I goof.”

The Jets won the game, 16-7, so it didn't matter anyway. But I'm surprised I didn't remember that. Ironically,

Baltimore released Michaels in 1970. The next season the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys in the fifth Super Bowl, 16-13, winning in the last seconds on a field goal by Jim O’Brien.

I do remember that; I watched the game with my brother in my grandmother's hospital room. Was that the only time the hero of the Super Bowl had an Irish surname? I also didn't know:

Winning was personal for Michaels — his brother Walt was the Jets’ defensive coordinator. 

The sting of losing the big game never left him, Michaels told The Baltimore Sun in 2010.

“People say, ‘Forget about it,’ ” he said. “How do you do that when your brother has your Super Bowl ring?”

It's Friday morning, the Iowa...

...caucuses are a week from Monday, and we need to consider where the race is today. And today it could be Sanders vs. Trump. Seriously.

Do I think it will really be Sanders vs. Trump in November? No. I just can't bring myself to believe that one of America's major political parties will nominate someone who self-identifies as a socialist while the other nominates a thoroughly unqualified outsider. I'm just not there yet. (I'd guess it would be more like Hillary vs. some establishment-approved compromise candidate like Paul Ryan.)

But if Trump wins both Iowa and New Hampshire (which is increasingly likely) he may just run the table. And if Sanders does the same (also increasingly likely) the Democrats could go into full freak-out mode and try to draft someone like Joe Biden. (Or Michael Bloomberg. Wouldn't that be something? Two New York tycoons duking it out for the White House? Only in America.) But it might be too late. Could ol' Joe even get on the ballot in most of the remaining states?

So today -- today -- it's Bernie vs. the Donald. And, according to Real Clear Politics, Sanders would best Trump by an average of five points. Over at the Huffington Post it's an even wider margin, Bernie by eleven.

Now, do I think Bernie Sanders will be the next president of the United States? No. Paddy Power still has Hillary as the odds-on favorite. But it does have Trump in second place:

Hillary Clinton 5/6
Donald Trump 7/2
Marco Rubio 6/1
Bernie Sanders 6/1

Here's the deal: the U. S. electorate is essentially split 50/50 Democrat/Republican. If the economy is still in recovery in November, the Democratic candidate wins. But if the current stock market sell-off is forecasting a recession, or if there's some foreign policy/national security/terrorist event in the fall, then the GOP candidate wins. I think it's that simple.

So could Donald Trump really be the next president of the United States? Yes, it's possible.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rule Number One...

...when looking for a job: dress for the position you want.

If Donald Trump is right about one thing, it's wear a suit if you're running for president. What the heck is Rand Paul thinking in that picture? Does he look like the Leader of the Free World to you, or some college senior at a tailgate party?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Glenn Frey, founding...

... member of the Eagles, died at age 67.

One of my (many) complaints about "terrestrial radio" is that I can't bring myself to listen to one more song by bands like the Beatles or the Eagles.* (Could we please retire "Breakfast with the Beatles"? Please?)** Even though they made great music they've been so overplayed I usually switch stations when one of their hits comes on the air. (Although I still turn it up for the Doors.)

So I guess I shouldn't be surprised to read that, according to his obit in the Times, the Eagles "sold more records than any other band in the 1970s." 

And when I went looking for a good song to accompany this post I ended up on YouTube for at least an hour, listening to old Eagles songs. Yeah, they may be overplayed, but they were still great.

P. S. In a little piece of trivia, Mr. Frey grew up in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, Michigan, which was also the home of Father Charles Coughlin, the Glenn Beck of the 1920s and '30s.

* I only have satellite radio in one of my cars. I really don't drive enough to justify the cost in the other. 

** The Fab Four recently announced they would be streaming their music for the first time. And people were excited! Finally -- finally! -- they can listen to "She Loves You" or "Can't Buy Me Love" or "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Seriously? You haven't heard those songs a thousand times already? Psst! Turn on any radio station any time of the day -- or just get in an elevator -- and you can hear the Beatles. Let's move on, people.

Monday, January 18, 2016

I only watched the first half...

...of the debate last night, but here's where things stand on Paddy Power with two weeks to go: Hillary wins Iowa, Bernie takes New Hampshire and Mrs. Clinton wins the nomination (and the general election).


Hillary 4/9
Bernie 13/8

New Hampshire:

Bernie 1/3
Hillary 15/8

Democratic nomination:

Hillary 2/9
Bernie 3/1

General election:

Hillary Clinton 10/11
Donald Trump 7/2
Bernie Sanders 6/1
Marco Rubio 6/1
Ted Cruz 10/1

Winning party:

Democrat 8/13
Republican 5/4

Now, admittedly, if Bernie wins both Iowa and New Hampshire the party bigwigs will go into full-out panic (including me). But, until and unless that happens, this is what the "smart" money is saying. (Forget the polls.) Don't agree? Then place your bets!

P. S. I had a guy on Twitter tell me recently that Rand Paul is going to win Iowa. He said the Kentucky senator has a "better ground game than Rubio, Cruz, Trump or Bush." Right now Dr. Paul is a 66/1 long-shot on Paddy Power. I told him if he's right he could cash in big time.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Giorgio Gomelsky, who booked...

...the Rolling Stones for their first paid appearance, died at age 81. From his obit in the Times: 

The Rolling Stones opened [at Mr. Gomelsky's club, Crawdaddy] in February 1963, before a crowd of three, an appearance for which they received the equivalent of one dollar each. Word of mouth led to bigger crowds, and they became the club’s resident act.

In addition,

Mr. Gomelsky also gave Eric Clapton, the [Yardbird's] original lead guitarist, his nickname. Mr. Clapton told The Daily Mail in 2013: “I used light-gauge strings, with a very thin first string, which made it easier to bend the notes, and it was not uncommon, during frenetic bits of playing, for me to break at least one string, While I was changing my strings, the audience would often break into a slow hand clap, inspiring Giorgio to dream up the nickname of Slowhand Clapton.”

This story is not, repeat...

...not, from the Onion: "New Prison Rule in Russia: No Swearing."

Russia’s prison system, the successor to the notoriously harsh gulag, has issued an edict that would have shocked even the victims of Stalin’s purges: From now on, officials say, some prisoners will be forbidden to swear.

The ban, reported by the Interfax news agency, prohibits inmates from “socializing with other individuals using lewd, threatening, demeaning or slanderous expressions or slang.”

There was no immediate indication of how the authorities intended to enforce the rule. Russian prisoners generally live in large, barracks-style communal cells with as many as 80 inmates to a room, where guards have little sway on what goes on.

All is not gloomy in the Russian penal system, however:

Detainees, who sometimes await trial for years, are now allowed to possess a larger range of personal items, including shower gel, deodorant and electric kettles...

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Foley Beach, an archbishop who leads the Anglican Church in North America, a breakaway group formed in the United States and Canada to protest the moves there to ordain gay bishops and recognize same-sex marriages. 

A piece in the Times...

...this morning, "How Some Would Level the Playing Field: Free Harvard Degrees," reminded me of some random thoughts I've been having lately on higher education.

The first is in the title of that article I just mentioned: Should an institution with a 30-plus billion dollar endowment charge tuition? Kinda nervy, isn't it? After all, universities are supposed to be non-profits. From the piece (all emphasis mine):

The idea of free tuition paid for by endowment income has also gained traction in Congress. College endowments held $516 billion in 2014, with 74 percent of the money held by 11 percent of institutions, according to a Congressional Research Service report in December. The average return in 2014 was 15.5 percent, the report said, but the colleges spent only 4.4 percent. By law, those are tax-exempt earnings.

Wow. Let's unpack all that one at a time. 

74 percent of the $516 billion in endowments is held by 11 percent of institutions. A little over ten percent of American universities have endowments totaling $380 billion. Again, wow. 

The average return in 2014 was 15.5 percent. Double-wow (or is it triple-wow by now). I guess Harvard doesn't exactly invest that money in T-bills, huh? Reminds me of that old quote from Annie Lowry, "Harvard is a real-estate and hedge-fund concern that happens to have a college attached." 

But not only is Harvard a really well-managed hedge fund, it's also tax-exempt.

Good God, Harvard, get ahead of the curve on this one, will ya? Stop charging tuition to debt-burdened young people! You were founded to educate ministers, remember?

Speaking of rich universities, you may have noticed that the Pritzker family -- one of the wealthiest in Illinois -- recently donated $100 million to Northwestern University's law school. From the Chicago Tribune:

According to the school, the donation is the largest single donation to a law school in the country. It will be used, in part, to pay for scholarships and grants. The money also will support the college's social justice, entrepreneurship, and civil and human rights initiatives.

That's admirable. Oh, and I almost forgot: 

As a result of the donation to the Evanston university, the 156-year-old law school will be renamed Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Now I have a degree from Northwestern, but I'm not all rah-rah Northwestern. As far as I'm concerned, I just went to school there. (Someone once asked me if I had a purple sport coat. Full disclosure: I don't.) So forgive me if I'm not entirely thrilled with the whole thing. In fact, it makes me wonder, if people have $100 million to throw around like that, are taxes on the rich too low? Think about it: Is that the best possible use to society of that money? Someone tweeted to me this week that "the private sector is much more efficient at spending money." And I'll admit, when I was an Ayn Rand-sympathizing libertarian, I used to think that way too. But, nowadays, especially when I read about examples like the Pritzkers and Northwestern, I'm not so sure anymore. I repeat: Is that really the best use of $100 million? Or might it be better spent on -- oh, I don't know -- shoring up the safety net?

Finally, imagine this: what if you bought a car and, say, six months or a year later the dealer called you up to ask if you'd like to give him more money. "Huh?" you might respond. "Didn't I already pay you?"

But isn't that kind of what universities do? You pay your tuition, complete all the requirements for a degree, they hand over the diploma and then you leave. A simple transaction, right? But then they come back to you later and ask for more money. Why? Aren't we done here? In that same article, it says:

The Pritzkers' donation comes in a year when Northwestern has received three other hefty donations of $100 million, distinguishing the school as a major fundraiser.

So why the heck are they asking me for money? Even if I gave them $10,000 -- a pretty hefty sum -- that would only amount to .0001 of one of those $100 million gifts. Not even a rounding error. In fact, would Northwestern even notice if I gave that kind of donation? (A check like that could get lost behind the cushions of some couch.)

Call me nuts, but I'd rather give a charitable donation to a deserving charity. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Trump has taken the lead!

On Paddy Power, at least. But with less than three weeks to go before the Iowa Caucuses, the Donald is the odds-on favorite on the Irish betting website:

Donald Trump 7/4
Marco Rubio 2/1
Ted Cruz 11/4

That's a first.

Trump has also retaken the lead in Iowa (slightly) on the Huffington Post aggregate poll, while still trailing Cruz on Paddy Power. In New Hampshire, the New York real estate mogul has a double-digit lead on the HuffPost poll and is in first place on Paddy Power.

Big question (big, big, big): Can Trump turn these poll numbers into actual votes?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Here's the biggest problem...

...facing America, in a nutshell.

On Charlie Rose this week (air date 1/10/2016), Republican strategist Frank Luntz had this to say about President Obama (with about 44 minutes remaining):

You have to look at where he could have been. If you go back to 2008, 2009, he could have ushered in a period of post-partisanship. And he chose not to. He could have brought in Republicans and not allowed Nancy Pelosi to basically say, "It's our way or the highway." He had that brief opportunity to do it, and he chose not to. And by the way, I don't blame him; I actually blame former Speaker Pelosi for that. And so I saw an opportunity -- one brief moment -- when he could have changed the entire political system, and he chose not to. And so that was a missed opportunity. And, second, yes, the Congress has been absolutely opposed to him because in the end his signature legislation, health care, only 38 percent supported it on the day that it was passed. You had a clear majority who was against it. So here he is trying to promote legislation that the American people said, "Please, Mr. President, don't." He was right to focus on the issue, but his approach was wrong. And the legislation was wrong. And, still, a majority of Americans opposed it.

Now, there's a lot to "unpack" here -- sheesh! -- and I could refute it point by point. But I won't, because the purpose of this post is to point out how Americans on the right and left live in different universes.

(By the way, I don't for a minute think Mr. Luntz actually believes any of that nonsense -- he's too smart. But a lot of Americans do, in part because people like him keep saying stuff like that.)

It's not enough, really, to say that Americans are more polarized than ever, that we disagree on policy. No, the truth is, we can't even agree on the facts. We have a different view of reality. And what does that mean? It means we're in the midst of a modern-day religious war. But unlike religious wars, in which Protestants and Catholics, say, ultimately agreed to disagree and attend the church of their choice on Sundays, Americans of the right and left must coexist under the same government.

So how does this thing resolve itself? As I once heard George Will say, by elections.

Just as one side eventually wins a civil war, so will the vision of the right or the left prevail. Which one will it be? Aside from having the facts on their side (which we can't agree on anyway), the Democrats have demographics working in their favor. The country is just getting less white, less Christian and less rural. And their worldview is just plain dying out.

(If you want a look at the future of America, come to my neighborhood and check out the students at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It might look a little different from State U. back in the 1950s.)

Another example is California. It wasn't too long ago that the Golden State was positively paralyzed by political polarization (no alliteration intended). But, through sheer demographics, California is now under one-party control and prospering again. I expect that to happen in the rest of the country as well. It may take a while, but it's coming.

In the meantime, when you have to listen to your crazy uncle at the Thanksgiving table (or my sister), do yourself a favor and just nod silently. It does no good to argue with someone who lives in a parallel reality. Instead, as the president said in the video at the top of this post, "Don't boo -- vote!"

Monday, January 11, 2016

I wasn't a huge fan...

...of David Bowie.* A fan, but not a huge one. But I did like this song.

* For you grammarians out there, I'd rather say "I'm a fan of David Bowie's," but apparently this is more correct. It's "I'm a fan of David Bowie, and I am one of David Bowie's many fans." Just sayin'.

The Unitarian Universalist, er...

...New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“Say your prayers, liturgies, tefillah, daily salat, sacred mantra, ritual incantation, or the secular affirmation of your choice, varmint!”

Chris Cillizza and Chuck Todd...

...are two of my favorite political analysts. As Chris Matthews would say, they are among the "best in the business."

On MTP Friday afternoon they both agreed that Donald Trump's campaign for president was no accident; instead the real estate tycoon knows exactly what he's doing.

Before I get into why I disagree, let's talk about movies for just a minute. Huh? Indulge me.

In 1976, when I was a senior in high school, United Artists released a movie about a down-and-out boxer who got a chance to fight the heavyweight champion of the world. Written in only three and a half days by an unknown actor named Sylvester Stallone, Rocky was shot in less than a month and was a sleeper hit, becoming the highest grossing film of the year and winning three Oscars, including Best Picture.

Rocky cost less than a million dollars to make and grossed over $200 million. That's when Hollywood studios knew what they were doing, right? Not exactly.

The next year, the same studio released a film called New York, New York, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli, three of the biggest names in the business back then. Sounds like a "can't miss," doesn't it? Well, turns out the movie grossed less than its $14 million budget. But don't feel too bad for the studio. United Artists ultimately recouped its loss on the film as a result of an agreement wherein they would share the profits with Rocky, which was expected to be a flop.

Now where the heck am I going with all of this? Good question.

Back to Messrs. Cillizza and Todd. Both men seemed to imply that Trump's candidacy was a well-thought out, well-executed plan to take advantage of the current Zeitgeist of anger, distrust of institutions, white resentment, etc. And, while I'll concede that Trump has been a genius at using the media, I still think his entire campaign has been a seat-of-the-pants affair.

And that brings me back to movies. Unlike some shrewdly-conceived, well-researched, focus-grouped, big-budget studio production (John Carter, Heaven's Gate, Ishtar and Gigli are just a few others) that turned out to be a box office dud (think Jeb Bush), Trump's candidacy is more like Rocky, Juno, Slumdog Millionaire, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Napoleon Dynamite or American Graffiti (which was turned down by every studio for distribution).

In other words, Trump didn't sit back, carefully survey the political landscape and take advantage of what he saw. He just reflects the current sentiment in America; he's of it. Take away all of Trump's billions and his gaudy, gilded properties, and he's just a kid from Queens. Even though he's fabulously wealthy, he's not at all like other Republican plutocrats, such as Mitt Romney or Jeb. He really is your Fox News-watching uncle at the Thanksgiving table, or that drunk at the end of any bar in America. Trump is just spewing what he really thinks -- off the top of his head -- and it happens to be resonating with a large segment of the Republican Party. Do you think George Lucas made American Graffiti with the intention it would be a blockbuster? Or was it just a labor of love that happened to connect with what Americans wanted back in 1973? I know it did with me.

So is Trump some modern-day Rasputin, manipulating the media and his followers? No. He's more like a modern-day Archie Bunker, albeit with a microphone.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Tom Toles cartoon of the day:

Nate Silver and company...

...over at FiveThirtyEight are wondering why the Republican Party establishment isn't doing more to stop Donald Trump.

My answer (and I don't think anyone in the piece said this) is that you can't beat somethin' with nothin'. And by that I mean: the establishment hasn't settled on a candidate yet.

It's a little ironic. As the old saying goes, "Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line." This year it's just the opposite. The Democrats have already fallen in line behind Hillary; the Republicans are in disarray.

And here's another irony: usually the conservatives, like in 2012, can't agree on an alternative to the establishment candidate. This year, for the first time I can remember, it's the establishment that can't agree on an alternative to the non-establishment candidate, in this case Trump (or Ted Cruz).

As I write this it appears to be a three-way race between Trump, Cruz and an establishment candidate to be named later. And that's the problem. As I said above, you can't beat somethin' with nothin'.

While Marco Rubio seems to be the establishment favorite (and is leading the pack on PaddyPower), the freshman senator from Florida is only in third place in Iowa and second in New Hampshire. As many pundits have noted, it's hard to see where Rubio starts winning.

Confounding Rubio's position in the establishment lane is pesky Chris Christie, who by all accounts is surging in New Hampshire. Oh, and don't forget Jeb. How can the establishment cut and run so quickly from a $100 million investment?

(And I didn't even mention John Kasich or Carly Fiorina. Don't laugh: the two of them together are polling almost 13 percent in New Hampshire. The establishment candidate could really use those votes!)

So until one of the establishment candidates "breaks out," the party elders are kind of frozen in place. My guess is we'll know the anti-Trump candidate after New Hampshire, but not necessarily. And besides, it may already be too late by then. If Trump wins the Granite State he may be on a roll for the SEC primaries on March 1 and Super Tuesday on March 15.

Yesterday, one of my business partners asked me what I thought a Trump victory in November would mean for the markets. And my response? I don't know. Honestly, probably nothing. But this morning I read in Bloomberg that George Soros thinks the financial markets may be facing another crisis like in 2008. (Apparently, he's said this before.) But, to turn around my partner's question, what effect do I think a market crash would have on the election? Say hello to President Trump.

P. S. Can you believe the Fed just raised rates? That same business partner of mine (who reads the Wall Street Journal) says the problem is that the Fed moved too late. Huh? I asked him. He's serious; his argument is that if the Fed had tightened earlier and more they would now have room to ease. Unbelievable.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Frank Bruni's column...

...this morning, "The Clintons’ Secret Language," is about marriage. And it's spot-on:

We know nothing of other people’s marriages. Nothing at all.

So why do we pretend otherwise? Why do we make so many assumptions and judgments?

And why, every election cycle, do we treat candidates’ spouses and unions as the keys to their characters?

We can’t trust what’s paraded in front of us any more than we can take what journalists and opponents dig up as the essential truth. A person’s intimate life isn’t readily fathomed, and on the inside tends not to look anything like it does on the outside.

Personally, I've been married for almost 30 years and agree with something I once read: Every marriage is a black box.

So Bruni advises us not to judge anyone by our impressions of his or her marriage:

It’s a foolish game under any circumstances. It’s a dangerous one en route to the election of a president.

And that reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a fellow Obama supporter. This individual will likely vote Democratic in November but admitted to just not liking Hillary

To which I responded: Fair enough, I don't like the Clintons either -- never have. But I'll vote for Hillary anyway. Why? Because she's highly intelligent, the most capable person running and the most likely to continue President Obama's legacy. 

And that also reminds me of a boss I once had. As a person, he was one of the two worst individuals I've ever met. He had a mean streak and almost seemed to take pleasure in firing people -- a truly loathsome creature. But, professionally, he was extremely good at what he did. I learned a great deal from him -- probably more than anyone else in my long and checkered career. I'd hate like hell to have to socialize with him, but I had great respect for him in his job.

Now don't get the wrong idea: I don't dislike Hillary anywhere near that much. I just find the Clintons to be disingenuous, insincere, opportunistic, etc. But those are hardly disqualifying characteristics. Will I ever feel the same respect and admiration for them that I have for President Obama? Not likely. But this isn't a popularity contest; we're talking about the Leader of the Free World. And Hillary is far and away the best choice.

P. S. Bernie Sanders? Love him. But we need to win.

Big news!

(For me, at least.) Ted Cruz just tied Marco Rubio for the lead, at 2/1 odds, on PaddyPower. The next three are:

3. Donald Trump, 9/4
4. Jeb Bush, 8/1
5. Chris Christie, 14/1

The Iowa Caucuses are on Monday, February 1. What is that, 26 days from now? This is getting serious.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Robert Stigwood, an Australian-born...

...producer, personal manager and music executive, died at age 81. From his obit in the Times:

In 1966 he became the manager of Cream, the rock supergroup that included Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker... 

Okay, I'll admit it: this is just another opportunity to listen to "I Feel Free" -- sue me. Produced by Mr. Stigwood, the music was written by Jack Bruce, who died in 2014. The above video is an interesting live version with an introduction by Mr. Bruce himself. Impatient? Flip to 2:10 to hear the song.

Monday, January 4, 2016

I just noticed this picture...

...of Gov. Scott Walker in an excellent piece in the Washington Post, "One year, two races: Inside the Republican Party’s bizarre, tumultuous 2015." Remind you of anything?

The New Yorker cartoon of the day...

“I suspect a challenger from the right. Let’s slaughter everyone on the right.”

...isn't necessarily the funniest one in this week's issue. But it does illustrate a point I'd like to make.

And that is this: in pre-modern times -- and I don't know this to be true, but it makes sense to me -- the king was most likely the baddest motherf****r in the tribe. I don't know who said it first (Emerson?) but in The Wire Omar famously warned, "Come at the king, you best not miss."

Think about it: the "godfather" of a crime family is the strongest, smartest and, yes, the most willing to have you "whacked" for some transgression. Who runs the playground at school? The bully. Who does your dog naturally follow? The alpha male. Need I go on?

I thought of all this when reading a piece in the Times on New Year's Day, "How Jeb Bush Hopes to Save His Candidacy." (I also thought: Does anyone really believe Jeb can save his candidacy? Does Jeb? Or does he feel like he owes at least a good-faith effort to all those billionaires who donated over $100 million to his super PAC?) Take a look at the accompanying picture, below:

Does that guy look like the baddest motherf****r in the tribe? Or does he look . . . "low energy"? Is it really surprising that Trump is leading in the polls? Regardless of your opinion of the Donald, you have to concede he's currently the baddest motherf****r in the Republican Party.

And isn't that what the president of the United States is? Our version of a king? And who, in modern times, fit that role the best? I'd say Reagan: tall, broad-shouldered, with movie-star good looks, a full head of dark hair ("premature orange," as Gerald Ford quipped) and a deep, booming voice. The Gipper had a ready (and easy) answer for every problem (no matter how complex), talked tough to the Russians, and was utterly and at all times supremely self-confident (even when he said stupid things like trees cause air pollution). No wonder the GOP practically canonized him!

Oh, and by the way, do you remember the knock on George H. W. Bush back in the 1980s? He was a "wimp." Yep, the guy who was actually a fighter pilot in World War II was considered more "low energy" than the guy who spent the war making training films! (Reagan actually served in something called the "First Motion Picture Unit" -- you can look it up.)

Now I know what you must be thinking right about now: How does this apply to Democrats? And I'd say: the same, only different. Huh? In other words, Democrats also value strength, etc., they just measure it in different ways. And in a Democrat's world, President Obama and Hillary Clinton are the baddest motherf****rs in the tribe: both are smart, competitive and capable leaders. Obama has the added distinction of being calm, incredibly poised and an inspirational speaker, while Hillary has a vindictive streak. In either case, however, if you come at them you'd better not miss.

What's my bottom line here? I'm not sure. I'm still skeptical that Trump can turn his good poll numbers into actual votes, but I'm also pretty confident that Jeb is toast.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1, 2016

What if the "Democrat" Party -- and...

...yep, you read that right -- started using the language of the "Repub" Party, or the "Repo" Party?* It could be their New Year's resolution. (W. has a little fun with the term above; is it any wonder voters in 2000 preferred to have a beer with him rather than Al Gore?)

But think about it: Democrats already speak in front of American flags, wear lapel pins and say "God bless America" at the end of every speech just like their Republic counterparts. Why not go all the way and call President Obama a "Great American" or even a "Great American Patriot"? Why cede that language to the Repos?

Or what about that annoying term I keep hearing Repub candidates use, "politically correct"? What the heck is that supposed to mean? I'd like to hear Democrat candidates on the stump say things like, "You know, it's not 'politically correct,' but to save Social Security we're going to have to raise the payroll tax cap." [Thunderous applause.] Or, "It may not be 'politically correct' to say this, but the federal government really needs to spend more on infrastructure." [Bravo!]

Or how about that old chestnut, "American Exceptionalism"? Why can't Democrats steal that one too while we're at it? You know, as in "Don't tell me we're the only developed country that can't provide universal health care to our citizens -- I believe in 'American Exceptionalism'!" [The crowd goes nuts.] Or, "Why is gun violence only a problem in America? Aren't we smart enough to figure this out? After all, I believe in 'American Exceptionalism'!" [That's what I'm tawkin' about!]

I think you get the idea. Those are just a few examples that immediately come to mind. I'll make it my New Year's resolution to point out others as I hear them in 2016.

Happy New Year everyone!

* "Democrat Party" has been used in negative or hostile fashion by conservative commentators and members of the Republican Party in party platforms, partisan speeches and press releases since at least 1940.