Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The stereotypical Nazi...

...Name of the Day belongs to Brunhilde Pomsel, who died at age 106.

According to her obit in the Times, Fräulein Pomsel was:

...the personal stenographer of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels during the last three years of World War II and one of the last surviving members of Hitler’s retinue in his final days in a Berlin bunker.

(I wonder who is Kellyanne Conway's personal stenographer.)

Two observations. First, her boss was said to be "a fanatic diarist, dictating up to 85 pages a day." (My emphasis.) I am forever amazed at how much everyone else seems to cram into a 24-hour day.

Second (again, my emphasis):

Like Hitler’s last private secretary, Traudl Junge, Ms. Pomsel insisted that she had been ignorant of Nazi atrocities during the war. She said it was not until after her return home from imprisonment that she learned of the Holocaust, which she called “the matter of the Jews.”

But she said she never had access to information about Nazi war crimes.

“We knew that Buchenwald existed,” she told The Times. “We knew it as a camp. We knew Jews went there. I witnessed the deportation of Jews from Berlin.” But she said the staff was told that deported Jews would repopulate lands to the east that were being abandoned by refugees.

As for gas chambers and crematories, she told The Guardian: “I know no one ever believes us nowadays — everyone thinks we knew everything. We knew nothing. It was all a well-kept secret. We believed it. We swallowed it. It seemed entirely plausible.”

Baloney sausage. I read a book recently about Nazi Germany that dispelled the myth that the general population didn't know what was going on in the camps. Think about it: hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals worked for the railroads, the companies that supplied the gas, etc. In addition, all of the camp guards, workers, etc. had families and friends and the word just got out. How could you keep something like that a secret? People talk -- it's human nature. Have you ever tried to keep a secret? It's really hard. True, many Germans didn't believe the "rumors," but it strains credulity to claim that they didn't know anything about it.

P. S. That's why I sometimes believe Oswald acted alone in assassinating Kennedy. Somebody in the "conspiracy" would have talked.

P. P. S. I said sometimes. If there's a heaven -- and if I get there -- one of my first questions will be, who killed Kennedy? Another will be, are the markets really efficient?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Coincidence! The house...

...at 2104 Kenwood Parkway in Minneapolis that was used for exterior shots to represent Mary Tyler Moore's apartment in her 1970s eponymous show is on the market for a cool $1.7 mil.

I wonder if the Bada Bing! is for sale too.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Before I get to "Mr. Trump's...

...Wild Ride," or "Don and Mike's Excellent Adventure" (or is it Don and Steve? or Don and Jared? or Don and Reince? or Don and Kellyanne? Whatever), I need to catch you up on the "Wednesday Hike with Mike."

This past week we went to Navy Pier, but the week before the guys went to the Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue. I was in California so Joe Duffy, a vocational consultant, volunteered to be our first Guest Hike Leader. Here are a couple of Joe's texts, lightly edited:
Wheels up! We are on the Blue Line headed for Clark and Lake. Then to the latest Riverwalk extension and take that east to Michigan. Destination Billy Goat for a cheeseburger. (John cued up the SNL sketch on the TV before we left!) 
Great group. I really enjoyed myself. Everyone kept up without any issues. Walked east along the Riverwalk. Talked about the Kennedys and Merchandise Mart (which I think they sold?) and then we chatted about Marina Towers and Meis' IBM building followed by Trump Tower, Wrigley Building and Trib Tower. Billy Goat was a hit and right as I was talking about how it is a hangout for journalists in walks Andy Shaw! Anyway. Fun evening!
Joe is right: the Kennedy family sold the Merchandise Mart in 1998 after owning the Art Deco masterpiece for over 50 years. Built by Marshall Field & Co., "the Mart" was the largest building in the world when completed in 1930 and had its own ZIP code until 2008!

Marina City (which you can just barely see in the left side of the picture above), consists of two corncob-shaped towers flanking a saddle-shaped auditorium and mid-rise hotel. It was designed in 1959 by Bertrand Goldberg and completed in 1964. The structure was the first urban post-war high-rise residential complex in the United States and designed to stem the flight of middle class residents from the city's downtown area. From what I understand, there isn't a right angle to be seen anywhere inside the towers.

The IBM Building, now known as AMA Plaza, was indeed designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, although the famous architect died in 1969 before construction began.

The Trump Tower, for which I'll have more to say next time, was originally intended to be the tallest building in the world but was scaled back after 9/11. When completed in 2009, the condo/hotel complex became the fourth-tallest building in the country and the second-tallest in Chicago.

The Wrigley Building, Chicago’s first air-conditioned office building, consists of two towers, between which the guys are shown walking. The taller south tower was completed in 1921 while the north in 1924.

The neo-Gothic Tribune Tower was rebuilt in 1925 after the original structure, which had been built in 1868, was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Unlike the IBM Building, the Wrigley Building and the Sears Tower (I still call it that), the Tribune Tower still counts among its tenants the media company for which it was originally named. If you look closely, the building includes fragments from such famous structures as the Taj Mahal, the Alamo, the Great Wall of China and many, many others.

Finally, the Billy Goat Tavern, where the guys "dined," is located below and between the Tribune Tower and the old Chicago Sun-Times building. As Joe mentioned, it became a big "hangout" for journalists, particularly Mike Royko, who made the establishment famous in his columns.

Thanks again, Joe, for filling in for me. I checked with the guys later and they all enjoyed the Hike every bit as much as he did. (I may have to "up" my game.)

Next: our Hike to Navy Pier.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Butch Trucks, drummer...

...and founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, died at age 69. (Bad day for '70s sitcom stars and classic rock bands!)

From his New York Times obit (my emphasis):

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine last year, Mr. Trucks said the Allman Brothers Band had started out only wanting to play the music its members loved, never counting on stardom.

“We were out spreading the gospel of this music we had discovered,” he said. “We never thought that we would be more than an opening act.”

Mary Tyler Moore died...

...yesterday at age 80. Coincidentally, I've been watching her eponymous show over the last few weeks.

(I must be bad luck -- I was also watching The Sopranos when James Gandolfini died suddenly in the summer of 2013. I remember thinking at the time that he was awfully heavy and at risk of a heart attack. Yikes!)

Why have I been watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show lately? I think it's because it's about Minneapolis in the 1970s -- when my family moved there -- and I'm thinking about my mother who died last summer. I've also been listening to a lot of the band Chicago, too. They were big in the '70s when we lived in Minnesota and always remind me of the place. Maybe that's how I grieve -- while other people cry I watch old TV shows and listen to classic rock.

Ms. Moore also played the mother in the 1980 film Ordinary People. The movie, set in Lake Forest, Illinois, not far from where I grew up in the '60s in Wilmette, was based on the 1976 novel of the same name by Judith Guest, who lived in Edina, Minnesota, where we moved in 1974. So there's all sorts of connections here for me.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show won a remarkable 29 Emmy Awards and Ms. Moore's obit in the Times gushes:

The influence of Ms. Moore’s Mary Richards can be seen in the performances of almost all the great female sitcom stars who followed her, from Jennifer Aniston to Debra Messing to Tina Fey, who has said that she developed her acclaimed sitcom “30 Rock” and her character, the harried television writer Liz Lemon, by watching episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Many nonactresses also said that Ms. Moore — by playing a working single woman with such compassion and brio — inspired their performances in real life.

But -- I hate to be difficult here -- didn't Marlo Thomas's 1960s sitcom That Girl anticipate The Mary Tyler Moore Show?

Ironically, the obit mentions:

It was another body part, her nose, that was said to have disqualified her from playing Danny Thomas’s daughter on his sitcom “Make Room for Daddy.” She was up for the role, but Mr. Thomas, who took pride in his exaggerated features, decided that her nose was too small to belong to a member of his family.

If you're about my age, you remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Saturday night:

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which forsook the gag-a-minute sitcom formula in favor of more character-driven humor, soon became one of the most popular shows in television history, aided only partly by its position in CBS’s winning Saturday-night lineup, which also included “M*A*S*H*,” “All in the Family” and “The Carol Burnett Show.”

The Bob Newhart Show was also a part of that lineup and I just finished watching the first three or four seasons of that sitcom as well. Dirty little secret: it's held up better over time than The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It's funnier; maybe that's because its star was an actual comedian.

In the meantime, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” fractured into spinoffs: the sitcoms “Rhoda” and “Phyllis” and the acclaimed drama “Lou Grant,” a rare example of an hourlong series spun off from a half-hour sitcom.

I had to include that last paragraph; Lou Grant was also one of my personal favorites. The star of that show, Ed Asner, had a son at the same therapeutic, residential school that my son attended in Hyde Park. Apparently he was quite a character. One of the directors of the school once told me he was an "old goat." Another connection.

Before The Mary Tyler Moore Show, of course, she played in another famous sitcom:

Ms. Moore had earlier, in a decidedly different era, played another beloved television character: Laura Petrie, the stylish wife of the comedy writer played by Dick Van Dyke on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Also on CBS, the show ran from 1961 to 1966.

The sitcom was created and produced by comedy legend Carl Reiner, whose son, Rob Reiner, got into trouble on the set once:

When my father (Carl Reiner) was working on The Dick Van Dyke Show, I was a teenager, and I thought Mary Tyler Moore was so hot. Those Capri pants! So one day I grabbed her ass. I guess I couldn’t resist. So I was called into my father’s office who looked at me sternly, and said, “Did you grab Mary Tyler Moore by the ass?” I knew I was in big trouble and said, “Yes.” He grinned and said, “Don’t ever do that again.” I think he wished he had done that (laughs).

I've read or heard about this story elsewhere and seem to remember that Ms. Moore made a big deal out of it. (Some might even say she overreacted.) And that brings me to my final comment: I know you should never say anything bad about the newly deceased, but I also recall reading or hearing that in real life Ms. Moore wasn't the nicest person who ever lived.

Oh, well, rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The chairman of the...

...Chicago Republican Party is named Chris Cleveland.

Anthony Colombo, a member...

...of the Mafia and son of a member of the Mafia who spent his whole life denying the existence of the Mafia, died at age 71.

Remember how, back in 2007...

...everyone knew -- just knew -- that a first-term black Senator from Illinois with the middle name "Hussein" and a last name rhyming with "Osama" would be the next president of the United States? What? You didn't know that? Did you think it would be someone like Hillary Clinton or John McCain?

How about last year? Wasn't it painfully obvious that a buffoon billionaire reality television show host with no political experience whatsoever would be the next commander in chief? Or that a 75-year-old Jewish socialist from Vermont would make a serious run for the Democratic nomination? What, did you think it would be someone else, like Jeb Bush or -- again -- Hillary Clinton? Who would think such a thing?

That's why I think the next president is likely someone who's not on anyone's radar just yet.

Consider Pete Buttigieg (above), the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for example. Who? TPM had a piece on him yesterday. What, you think the country's not ready for a gay man of Maltese descent? Maybe you're right. But I'll bet the next president is someone no one is talking about right now. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

William Peter Blatty, author of...

...The Exorcist, died at age 89. The movie was released in 1973, when I was a freshman in high school. It was the scariest thing I had ever seen.

Far be it from me...

...to say anything nice about Donald Trump, but after finally listening to his inauguration speech yesterday, I have to say that even if the new president doesn't have all the answers (or any of them) at least he's asking some of the right questions (and drawing attention to some of the right problems).

The New York Times published a transcript of Trump's speech with comments in the margin from Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Binyamin Appelbaum, Matt Apuzzo and Eric Schmitt.

As I said, after reading and hearing all the criticism I actually listened to the speech myself (which I thought sounded quite a bit different from the transcript). And I found myself -- gulp -- agreeing with some of what President Trump had to say. For example (all emphasis mine):

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.

He has a point, doesn't he? Hasn't the recovery -- and the economy in the last, say, forty years -- benefited the rich at the expense of the middle class?

Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.

Even Mr. Appelbaum agrees with this:

This is literally true. The Washington area has become one of the most prosperous parts of the United States in recent decades, while much of the country has stagnated economically.

Back to Trump:

Politicians prospered, but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

That's true too, isn't it? The last forty years or so have been positively devastating for blue collar workers.

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists:

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

Is that too much to ask, "good jobs for themselves"? And while Matt Apuzzo is correct in noting that:

Violent crime increased about 4 percent in 2015, but that is a small blip in a decades-long decline in crime. The United States remains far safer than it has been in generations.

It's uneven, right? The neighborhood I live in on the Near West Side of Chicago is safer than it's been in decades, but some neighborhoods not too far from me on the West and South Sides are in dire shape.

And Trump is right about drugs -- not just in the "inner city," but all across the country. You've heard of the heroin epidemic, haven't you?

For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries

Once again, Mr. Appelbaum concedes the point:

Corporate profits have reached record heights in recent years. The biggest American companies have benefited enormously from globalization. It's the workers who have suffered.

Again, uneven. And as for that last part, the United States does subsidize the military for such countries as Germany and Japan, right?

We've defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.

Mr. Appelbaum comments:

Trade with China cost the United States about a million factory jobs from 2000 to 2007, according to one recent study. But automation and increased efficiency is a much larger reason that factory employment has declined. American industrial output is actually at the highest level in history. It's the jobs that have gone away.

But Trump is right: our infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. And America has enriched other countries like China at the expense of its own workers. Imagine: a million factory jobs!

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

That makes sense, doesn't it? Isn't that what a government is supposed to do, make decisions based on how it impacts its own citizens? Or as Trump says:

We will bring back our jobs.


We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

Finally, Trump tells his followers:

You will never be ignored again.

And isn't there some truth to that as well? While Republicans have served the donor class and the Democrats looked out for the poor and less fortunate, who had the interests of the middle class foremost in mind?

Once again, I'm not convinced that Trump has the answers to any of these problems, but at least he's asking some of the right questions. And, unlike every other Republican, he didn't talk about cutting taxes or regulations or the size of government, etc.

My older son and one of my brothers think I'm too optimistic about Trump; almost criminally optimistic. But Charlie Rose asked the question last week: What would be a "Nixon to China" moment for the new president? I'd say something like raising taxes on the rich or passing single-payer health care. (Don't laugh -- Trump has said both of those things in the past. What if he turns out to be -- again, don't laugh -- a "traitor to his class" like the Roosevelts?)

Do I think the new president will succeed? As Zhou Enlai once said in answer to a different question: It's too early to say. But I think it may be worth it to wait and see.

Dick Gautier, who played...

...Hymie the robot on the 1960s sitcom Get Smartdied at age 85.

Get Smart, starring Don Adams, was hysterical; it was one of the only TV shows I remember that actually made my father laugh.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“Your grass-fed beef—are the cows forced to eat the grass?”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I'll be in Los Angeles...

...for the rest of the week while my wife attends a class at UCLA. Blogging, as a result, will be slow to non-existent.

That's Powell Library, at the top of this post, by the way. Does it remind you of Maine East, above? It should; the main entrance to the Park Ridge high school was inspired by the 1929 Romanesque Revival structure in Westwood.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Song of the Day...

...is from the 2015 movie Brooklyn.

It's "Casadh an tSugain," by the Irish singer, Iarla Ó Lionáird, who sings in the traditional sean-nós (old) style.

This is the scariest thing...

...I've read in a while. Damon Linker writes in The Week, "What Trump has wrought," (my emphasis):

The contrast to Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal is illuminating. Nixon was forced to resign the presidency because he was caught in a web of corruption and a tangle of lies. But Nixon only got caught and faced politically fatal consequences for his actions because his corruption and lies were visible against a backdrop of facts and truths that just about everybody from both political parties assumed and took for granted — and because Nixon himself yielded before these facts and truths.

Now imagine Trump in Nixon's shoes. He would begin by flagrantly attacking Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein immediately after their very first story runs in The Washington Post. Soon the attacks would extend to the paper as a whole and any media outlet that runs summaries of the Post's investigations or tries to follow up on aspects of the story. Within days, the relentless barrage of abuse on Twitter and in press conferences from the president himself would mushroom into dozens of stories a day on Fox News, Breitbart, talk radio shows, and countless websites. Charges, counter-charges, and conspiracy theories would fly in every direction. And every day, the president would deny everything, calling it a witch hunt, a left-wing hatchet job run behind the scenes by members of the Democratic leadership, each one of whom receives an insulting nickname that the president uses to mock them. Soon the nicknames would be everywhere online, used for fun even by journalists critical of Trump.

Even if we assume (implausibly) that the investigation of the president would continue in the midst of this circus, is it even remotely realistic to assume that the revelations contained in the string of stories could gain political traction? Trump would only face danger if Republicans in the House of Representatives turned on him, but they would never turn on him with the Republican electorate calling the stories (on the basis of no evidence whatsoever) thoroughgoing nonsense orchestrated by the president's political enemies.

In this Trump-as-Nixon scenario, there would be no serious threat of impeachment, and therefore no resignation. The storm would eventually pass, succeeded or merely drowned out by the next one, or by the half-dozen simultaneous (and much less serious) mini-scandals drummed up by the right-wing media to add to the chaos of distraction. The series of stories in the Post would still be read closely by outraged Democrats. The newspaper would still win its Pulitzer Prize (mocked by the president as a "liberal-media booby prize for talentless hacks"). But the "scandal" would have no significant political impact.

That's not hard to believe, is it? Scary.

Tommy Allsup, the...

...second-luckiest man ever*, died at age 85. From his New York Times obit:

Tommy Allsup, a guitarist best known for losing a coin toss that kept him off the plane that later crashed and killed the rock ’n’ roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, died on Wednesday in Springfield, Mo. 

Tommy Allsup was a member of Holly’s band when Holly and the others, who were on tour, died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959.

Mr. Allsup flipped a coin to see whether he or Valens would get a seat on the plane. He lost and took a bus to the next stop on the tour.

* The luckiest man ever was Tsutomu Yamaguchi.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“Just to be clear, this is just a spaceman and a spacewoman on a spacewalk. This isn’t a spacedate.”

One of my first responses...

...upon hearing that Donald Trump had indeed won the election was that President Obama should skip his inauguration. I wasn't sure exactly how that would work, but I just didn't think the 44th president should dignify the Donald with his presence. I mean, how could he?

Fortunately, President Obama is a much bigger man than me and never had any such ideas. As far as I can tell, the only former president expected to miss the festivities will be George H.W. Bush, due to his health.

But then Rep. John Lewis announced last week that he wouldn't be attending either and now more and more Democrats are joining him.

While I wasn't planning on attending the inauguration anyway (I'll be in Los Angeles on Friday), I figure if it's good enough for John Lewis then it's good enough for me. So I will also, in my own way, boycott the inauguration. (Stop the presses!) That means on Friday I'll do just about anything but turn on the TV. Hopefully, I'll be able to enjoy the outdoors in LA, but if it rains as forecasted, there's plenty to do inside. I notice there are at least two museums within walking distance of where we'll be staying. And while I'm not a big museum-goer as a rule, I just can't imagine watching Donald Trump take the oath of office. I'm not prepared, like Rep. Lewis, to say that Trump is not "legitimate," but I do think he's unworthy of this great office. If anyone out there still harbors the childlike notion of American Exceptionalism, that will all be gone by noon on Friday.

It may not be original, but as far as I'm concerned, it's Mourning in America.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Victor Lownes, a Playboy...

...executive and personal friend of Hugh Hefner's, died at age 88.

His obit says that his first wife was Judith Downs. I wonder if she went by the name Judith Downs Lownes.

I'm not a journalist; I don't...

...even play one on TV. I'm just a proverbial "blogger in a bathrobe in his parents' basement," except that I actually work on the first floor of my own home. But I am wearing a bathrobe right now and this room does have the feel of a basement.

Having said all that, I think McKay Coppins was spot-on in his characterization of Trump's masterful handling of the media at his "press conference" this week. Here's a sample (my emphasis):

At the dawn of the Trump presidency, America’s political press corps is feeling anxious, territorial, threatened—and the president-elect showed Wednesday that he’s ready to take advantage.

In the 18 hours leading up to Trump’s news conference, the press had been busy obsessing over BuzzFeed’s controversial publication of a dossier containing salacious, and unverified, claims about his relationship with Russia. Knowing they would field questions about the story, Trump and his team came prepared with a divide-and-conquer strategy—seizing on the intra-industry ethics debate surrounding the report to drive a wedge between their media adversaries.

Trump spent the rest of the news conference demonstrating his newfound respect for members of the press by taunting them, chiding them, and happily hurling insults at them.

The long-awaited news conference proceeded generally along the same lines, with Trump easily manhandling the press corps while access-starved correspondents competed to get their questions answered on camera.

Here's just one example of what I thought was a colossal blunder by one of the reporters present:

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign. And if you do indeed believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?

And here was Trump's non-answer:

TRUMP: He shouldn’t be doing it. He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe that he will be doing it more now.

We have to work something out, but it’s not just Russia. Take a look at what’s happened. You don’t report it the same way; 22 million accounts were hacked in this country by China. And that’s because we have no defense. That’s because we’re run by people that don’t know what they’re doing. Russia will have far greater respect for our country when I’m leading it and I believe and I hope — maybe it won’t happen, it’s possible. But I won’t be giving (ph) a little reset button like Hillary. Here, press this piece of plastic. A guy looked at her like what is she doing? There’s no reset button. We’re either going to get along or we’re not. I hope we get along, but if we don’t, that’s possible too.

But Russia and other countries — and other countries, including China, which has taken total advantage of us economically, totally advantage of us in the South China Sea by building their massive fortress, total. Russia, China, Japan, Mexico, all countries will respect us far more, far more than they do under past administrations.

Imagine, instead, if the question had been simply:

Can you stand here today, once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign? (Stop.)

And if the press had actually demanded an answer?

My guess is that over time reporters will get a lot savvier at covering President Trump. As I wrote yesterday, he's very, very good at this but his shtick won't last forever. In the meantime, stop asking this guy multi-part questions! It just makes it easier for him to dodge them, like in the example above. Ask Trump point-blank questions and make him answer them.

When I heard Donald Trump...

...speaking about health care reform at his news conference this week I couldn't help thinking of something that the outgoing President Truman said about the incoming President Eisenhower:

He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, "Do this! Do that!" And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.

Here's exactly what Trump said on Wednesday (my emphasis):

So the easiest thing would be to let it implode in ’17 and believe me, we’d get pretty much whatever we wanted, but it would take a long time. We’re going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary’s approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan.

It’ll be repeal and replace. It will be essentially, simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably, the same day, could be the same hour.

So we’re gonna do repeal and replace, very complicated stuff. And we’re gonna get a health bill passed, we’re gonna get health care taken care of in this country. You have deductibles that are so high, that after people go broke paying their premiums which are going through the roof, the health care can’t even be used by them because their deductibles bills are so high.

Obamacare is the Democrats problem. We are gonna take the problem off the shelves for them. We’re doing them a tremendous service by doing it. We could sit back and let them hang with it. We are doing the Democrats a great service.

So as soon as our secretary is approved and gets into the office, we’ll be filing a plan. And it was actually, pretty accurately reported today, The New York Times. And the plan will be repeal and replace Obamacare.

We’re going to have a health care that is far less expensive and far better. 

And all I could think is that Trump will sit there in the Oval Office (or Trump Tower), and he’ll say, "Do this! Do that!" And nothing will happen. Poor Donald -- it won’t be a bit like his company. He’ll find it very frustrating.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news (actually I don't mind it a bit), but there are currently a grand total of 52 Republicans in the Senate and 241 in the House and every single one of them cares more about his or her career than they do about Donald Trump's presidency. (I would argue that they care more about their careers than they do about health care, but that's the subject of a different post.) Also, nearly every single one of them has their own ideas on how the GOP should proceed on health care, and every single one of them -- at least in the Senate -- thoroughly believes that he or she would make a much better president than Donald Trump. If he thinks for one second that health care reform -- or anything else, for that matter -- is going to operate on his schedule he may find himself as frustrated as Ike in Truman's daydream.

This won't be like the Trump Organization where the Donald says "Do this! Do that!" and stuff actually happens. I've been to the Trump Hotel in downtown Chicago and was very impressed. Everything there is of the highest quality. People don't say, "No problem" when you say "Thank you"; they say, "My pleasure." But the difference is, those people all work for Donald Trump; he signs their paychecks. United States Senators and Representatives work for themselves (or their constituents), not Donald Trump. They don't answer to him.

So Trump may find this "presidenting" stuff to be a little harder than it looks.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It may be time...

...to get a haircut when you start to look like a famous clown from the 1960s.

The Really Unfortunate Company...

...Name of the Day belongs to Hiscox Holdings Ltd., named after Ralph Hiscox, above.

According to Wikipedia:

The roots of the company lie with the Roberts agency, which commenced underwriting marine insurance at the Lloyd's market in 1901. In 1946 Ralph Hiscox, who had joined the agency as an underwriter of non-marine insurance eight years earlier, formed the Roberts & Hiscox partnership for the purposes of managing syndicates at Lloyd's. 

In 1987 the firm reorganised - a holding company, Hiscox Holdings Ltd, was established for the group, which comprised the subsidiaries Hiscox Syndicates (for managing syndicates) and Roberts & Hiscox (for introducing and advising members of the Lloyd's market). 

Who, besides Mr. Hiscox, do you suppose thought Hiscox would be a better name for the company than Roberts?

A little over a year ago...

...I compared Donald Trump to Joe McCarthy:

Joe McCarthy, another famous Republican bully, began his reign of terror in February, 1950, and didn't get taken down until almost four and a half years later, in June, 1954.

It wasn't original; I had just read a piece in RealClear Politics by Lou Cannon, a journalist and Reagan biographer, "Echoes of Joe McCarthy in Donald Trump's Rise." It was a bit of an "Aha!" moment for me. After yesterday's "press conference," it's worth rereading Cannon's piece. Here's the first paragraph (my emphasis):

He was a Democrat turned Republican who made alarming accusations and liked the sound of his own voice. He used statistics that could not be verified or were demonstrably wrong.  He frightened the establishment, which was slow to combat him, for he had unlimited resources and bullied his critics. He perplexed the press, making so many charges that reporters could not keep up with them. He was at first dismissed as a clown but he built a grassroots following among people fed up with conventional politics.

President-elect Trump totally and completely dominated that press conference yesterday. It was quite a display at what he's very, very good at: manipulating the media and using the spotlight to his advantage. In fact, he's a genius. No wonder he pulled off the greatest con of all time. The reporters assembled in that room were so not up to the task at hand it was almost embarrassing. (It looked like a bunch of eighth-graders trying to keep up with Michael Jordan.)

In many ways, it also reminded me of McCarthy's first days as a Red-baiter. (Here's a great book on the subject.) The Wisconsin senator was so, so successful until . . . he wasn't. And I can't help thinking that at some point Trump's shtick will wear thin. I don't know how long it will take, but it'll eventually catch up to him someday and end badly. It has to. Maybe his poll numbers will be so poor in four years he'll decide not to run for reelection and spin it some other way, but I know -- I just know -- that his luck is going to run out. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it may be a while.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bloomberg had a good piece...

...yesterday, "Farewell to the Chief: Our Columnists Assess Obama's Presidency," in which a number of its contributors remarked "on things they will miss, others they will not, and moments that have left a mark no matter what you think of him or his administration."

Of these, Megan McArdle's is predictably smart alecky; Ramesh Ponnuru's is almost deranged (is this the same soft-spoken guy I've seen on MTP Daily?); Eli Lake brings up the "Red Line," of course, which I think was actually one of Obama's best moments (yep, you read that right; how many American lives were spared because the president changed his mind?); but Noah Smith got it just about right as far as I'm concerned: Obama was the greatest president of my lifetime.

Not only was Obama the greatest president of my lifetime, but I'd argue he was also the greatest since at least FDR. (If you want to read more of my praise of the 44th president, just scroll through the posts of this blog, which I began shortly before he was elected in 2008.)

But, as great as I think he was, President Obama was not without his faults. I'd say a couple of them are just personal pet peeves of mine while the third was probably his one true shortcoming as Chief Executive.

The first two (and I've written about all these before; I'm just too lazy right now to find them and provide the links) are:

1) The Obamas didn't send their daughters to public schools; and

2) He chose to carve out land from a public park for his presidential library when there was plenty of open space on the South Side and also chose a New York (!) couple as architects instead of someone right here in Chicago. (It's not like we don't have a distinguished architectural tradition in this town.)

Petty? Yeah, whatever. I said they were personal pet peeves.

But number three is real. And it's that President Obama badly underestimated (or overestimated, depending on how you look at it) the Republicans, in at least his first term. Obama and his wife have to be considered the classiest couple that has ever occupied the White House. (Maybe, just like Jackie Robinson, the first black couple had to be.) He is a gentleman, through and through, and she is a lady. No doubt about it. As human beings, they are just about as admirable in every way as you can get. Full stop.

But, unfortunately, as the first Mayor Daley once said, "Politics ain't beanbag." And it's true. Or, as Anthony Wiener put it, "Democrats tend to bring a library book to a knife fight." And that, I would say, was Obama's one big weakness: unlike FDR or LBJ (or even Hillary, who would have been extremely clear-eyed about the Republicans), he was never willing to abandon the Marquess of Queensberry rules when taking on someone like Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. In fairness, the Speaker may have been willing to cut a deal with the president but was hamstrung by his caucus. McConnell, however, was always out for Mitch McConnell, country or party be damned. (And, to be honest, the Kentucky senator has done an excellent job of managing his career.) But, unfortunately, to be an effective president means sometimes coming down from your pedestal and getting your hands a little dirty. And, although Obama will still go down in history as a great and consequential president, I can only imagine how much more effective he could have been had he not been such an exemplary man.

I agree with Jonathan Bernstein...

...that President Obama's farewell address last night was, well, a bit of a disappointment. While I think the president is one of the best speakers I have ever heard (if not the best), I didn't think last night's was one of his better ones. Oh, well.

(Obama's best speech, I think, might still be the one he gave in Cairo shortly after he took office, above. I remember watching the whole thing in real time with my jaw practically on the floor. What a contrast with the guy who came before him!)

I have to admit I fell asleep for part of last night's speech (I missed my afternoon nap) and at one point turned to my wife and said something about it being kind of dry. She agreed, saying it sounded like he was addressing the Harvard Law School or something. Maybe I'm a little tired of hearing Obama speak (no, make that used to hearing him speak), and maybe after eight years I'm finally ready for him to hand the reins to someone else. (No I'm not; I'd vote for Obama again in a heartbeat! Who wouldn't?)

But Bernstein hit the nail on the head at the end of his piece:

The good news is that Barack Obama may not have given a great presidential farewell address, but he's hardly finished as a public speaker. He's probably better situated to give important post-presidential speeches than any of his predecessors, given his age and his particular abilities, talents, and interests. When scholars and students study his greatest speeches decades from now, they'll skip over this one to get to the good ones he gave after he left office. 

He has a lot left to say. I look forward to hearing from Citizen Obama.

And I said something similar to my wife. Look, this guy is only 55 years old! And he'll be living in Washington until his younger daughter graduates from high school. He's not going anywhere. And, unlike other former presidents, I'm sure he'll make his voice heard after he leaves the Oval Office. Obama will choose his battles carefully, to be sure, but he could be a force for the next, what, thirty years! I wouldn't be surprised if one of the first questions on everyone's mind when a particular topic comes up in the future is, "Yeah, but what does Obama think about it?"

Of the last thirteen presidents, two of the most consequential, FDR and JFK, died in office. And a third, Reagan, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease less than two years after he left the White House. So none of them were able to have a consequential post-presidency.

As for the rest, Truman, Carter and Nixon left office deeply unpopular; Ike and LBJ died shortly after leaving the Capitol; Ford and both Bushes kept low-ish profiles, and Clinton spent much of his time working on his foundation and furthering his wife's career.

So that leaves President Obama, not only young but as popular as Reagan when he left office, free to speak out and influence events going forward. I wouldn't be surprised if he turned out to be the most consequential former president in history.

Monday, January 9, 2017

In response to my post...

...on why, among other things, Minnesota is outpacing Wisconsin economically, a reader brought to my attention an article in Chicago Magazine, "How Minneapolis Is Growing As Chicago Shrinks," that credits, among other things, tax policy.

It's a good piece, but it doesn't answer the question of why so many (at least 50 since 2007) companies are relocating to Chicago from its suburbs. Now, before you jump all over me because the two articles are not comparing apples to apples, it still begs the question, why is Chicago, with all its "problems," still attracting a lot of high-profile companies? Why aren't they moving to Minnesota with all its advantages, or low-tax Wisconsin?

And here, I think, is what I was getting at in my original post: maybe there's something going on that's less quantifiable than tax policy to explain the robustness of Chicago's economy. Maybe it's something as simple as the critical mass of young, well-educated professionals who would rather live in Wicker Park (like my nephew) than Edina or Whitefish Bay.

I remember when my brother-in-law had a lead on a good job in Milwaukee for my son after he graduated from college. "Do I really have to live in Milwaukee?" he said. Most of the people he knew were moving to cool places like New York or San Francisco or even Washington, D. C.

So, again, maybe there's something we just don't know that results in the Twin Cities having such a dynamic economy. Maybe people just work harder in the cold. (Then why isn't Alaska an economic powerhouse?) Maybe it's something subtle that we just don't know yet.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

I think I've written about this...

...before, but a piece in Bloomberg this morning, "Kansas Offers Cautionary Tale for Trump's Tax Ambition," motivates me to make the point again (unless I haven't already). And the point is: maybe in the grand scheme of things tax policy just doesn't really matter that much. From the piece (my emphasis):

Since [Governor Brownback] approved a reduction in personal income taxes and cut non-wage business income taxes for small-business owners in 2012, Kansas has fallen behind the national average in terms of job creation and personal income growth, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

And you could say the same thing, by the way, about Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin and its pesky high-tax, big-government, but prosperous neighbor, Minnesota. (I've written about this here, here and here.) Ask yourself, why are there twice as many Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota as in Wisconsin? If there's one thing we can be sure of it's not taxes.

When we first got married, my wife and I had a subscription with another couple to the Victory Gardens Theater on Lincoln Avenue. I only remember a handful of the productions, but one has stayed with me in particular, a one-man play in the 1993-94 season called, "Michael, Margaret, Pat & Kate," starring a Chicago-based singer-songwriter by the name of Michael Peter Smith. I'll never forget what Mr. Smith said about his singing career. In essence, it was:

Maybe I didn't try hard enough;
Maybe I tried too hard;
Maybe trying doesn't have anything to do with it.

And I wonder sometimes if that could be applied to states like Kansas and Wisconsin. In other words:

Maybe their taxes are too high;
Maybe they're too low;
Maybe tax policy doesn't have anything to do with it.

Maybe there's an entirely different reason (that we just don't know yet) to explain Wisconsin's economic lethargy vs. Minnesota's vibrancy or the failure of Kansas to jump-start its economy in the face of the relative strength of its neighbors. What if there's no economic policy emanating from the state capital that could level the playing field between, say, Minnesota and Wisconsin? What if there's something else here at play that we just don't know about?

I was talking to a math major...

Image result for five-thousandths of one percent...from Northwestern University yesterday and I asked him how to read the number .00005. (Cipherin' was never my long suit.) And the answer is: five-thousandths of one percent. Or, in English, a "rounding error."

Now, you're probably wondering where I'm going with this and suspecting somehow that I'm going to tie it in to the murder rate in Chicago. Bingo! Buy yourself a Coke. (Actually, don't; it's "no sugar January," remember?*)

But, seriously, I was thinking of this quote from a piece in the New York Times which I cited in a recent blog post (my emphasis):

The police said the shootings in those areas generally were not random, with more than 80 percent of the victims having previously been identified by the police as more susceptible because of their gang ties or past arrests.

So if 80 percent of the 762 murder victims in Chicago last year were essentially "outlaws" or "bad guys" or whatever you want to call them, then only 20 percent were "innocent." And 20 percent of 762 is 152.4, or .0000563 -- roughly five-thousandths of one percent -- out of a city of 2.7 million people. Does that sound like a significant number to you, five-thousandths of one percent? Or does it sound more like a rounding error? How many municipalities in America -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- can claim a murder rate of five-thousandths of one percent? That actually sounds pretty good to me.

(Check my math: if a city of 100,000 people has six murders in a year, that's a higher percentage than Chicago, right?)

* By the way, we're eight days into the month and I haven't had any "sugar" with the exception of what's already in the "food" I eat. That means no soda, candy, cookies, cake, pie, ice cream, etc. -- what my mom used to call "sweet stuff." And I'm reading labels now; did you know that milk has 12 grams of sugar per serving? But it's not added; it occurs naturally.

I'll have more to say about all this as the month progresses; but so far, so good.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to actor Jack Noseworthy. (Am I the only one who's never heard of this guy?)

What if we have it all backwards?

That's right; what if we're asking the wrong question? What if, instead of asking why there are so many murders in Chicago (since the long-term rate is actually down), why aren't we asking why (and how) the murder rate in New York and Los Angeles has dropped so low?

Tired of hearing me talk about this? So am I. Someone suggested to me the other day that my New Year's resolution, instead of eating less sugar, should be doing "something about the murder rate in Chicago." (I guess everyone's a comedian.) In case you'd like to reread my last three posts on the subject, click here, here and here.

But I really am getting a little tired of seeing pieces like this from CBS News, "Chicago saw more 2016 murders than NYC, LA combined" (my emphasis):

New York, the nation’s largest city, logged 334 homicides in 2016, according to the New York Daily News, while the country’s second-largest city, Los Angeles, saw 294, reports the LA Times.

While New York City saw a slight decrease in homicides and Los Angeles a slight increase for 2016, both have hit historic lows in the past several years

Isn't that the story? Not that Chicago's murder rate is so high (since it is actually down historically), but that New York's and LA's are so low!

I can't find the statistics about Los Angeles just yet, but check out these numbers from New York (or just look at that chart at the top of this post):

New York City murders by year:

1970: 1117
1971: 1466
1972: 1691
1973: 1680
1974: 1554
1975: 1645
1976: 1622
1977: 1557
1978: 1504
1979: 1733
Avg: 1556.9

1980: 1814
1981: 1826
1982: 1668
1983: 1622
1984: 1450
1985: 1384
1986: 1582
1987: 1672
1988: 1896
1989: 1905
Avg: 1681.9

1990: 2245
1991: 2154
1992: 1995
1993: 1946
1994: 1561
1995: 1177
1996: 983
1997: 770
1998: 633
1999: 671
Avg: 1413.5

2000: 673
2001: 649
2002: 587
2003: 597
2004: 570
2005: 539
2006: 596
2007: 494
2008: 522
2009: 471
Avg: 569.8

2010: 534
2011: 515
2012: 414
2013: 332
2014: 328
2015: 352
2016: 334
Avg (so far): 401.2

And to refresh your memory, here are the average annual murders in Chicago per decade:

1970s: 827.5
1980s: 738.1
1990s: 824
2000s: 550.3
2010s (so far): 502

I know I've written a lot about this lately, but I really do believe people are asking the wrong question, and that Chicago is getting a bad rap in the process. The long-term murder rate in Chicago is down. Do I need to repeat that? The long-term murder rate in Chicago is down. The better question is, Why are the rates in New York and LA down so much more? Let's find out why that is the case and then talk to me about Chicago.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

Monday, January 2, 2017

My brother called...

...yesterday to wish me a Happy New Year and asked if I had any New Year's resolutions. His was to become a "better Catholic," and if you knew him you'd know how truly laughable that is: there is no better Catholic on the planet -- trust me. What, I asked him, could he possibly do to become better? He couldn't answer, but it didn't change his resolve.

As for me, I told him I didn't make New Year's resolutions as a rule because I always thought it was silly: if something is worth doing, just do it today. Why wait for some arbitrary date like January 1? (Also, as my grandmother once told me, "You just break 'em anyway.")

But then I thought of this piece I read in the Times on Friday, "A Month Without Sugar," by David Leonhardt. "I'm thinking of giving up sugar for the month of January," I told him. "Whoa!" he said. "That would be really hard!" "Yeah, and I'm also going to start reading food labels more closely to see how much sugar is in the food I eat."

It's funny; I've mentioned this to a couple of people and have gotten the same reaction -- like it would be impossible or something. And I'll grant that it would be nearly impossible not to buy food with at least some sugar in it, but couldn't I skip eating cakes, cookies and ice cream for a month? Would that be so hard? But people seem to think it would be. They might give up fats, or carbs, or work out more to drop a few pounds, but give up sugar? Are you out of your mind?!?

Right now I'm on Day Two. January has 31 days -- that's a long time. But, like Mr. Leonhardt, I just finished a couple of weeks in which I've consumed a whole lot of sugar. What better time to try it? I guarantee I'll be back to drinking chocolate malts this summer; after all, I'm not a monk! But, in the meantime, I'll keep you posted and let you know if I've cheated at all. And, if not, if I feel any better.

There was another story...

...in the Times this morning that got my attention (I'm on the warpath today!), "Couple Held in China Are Free, but 'Even Now We Live Under a Cloud.' "

It's about a couple, Kevin and Julia Garratt (not Garrett -- Honorable Mention for Name of the Day), who got accidentally involved in a "Spy vs. Spy" story involving China and Canada.

The story is mildly interesting, but I had an entirely different takeaway. The article said the Garratts (my emphasis):

...lived in China on and off for 30 years, raising their four children there and moving the family from Vancouver to Dandong, a gritty city on the North Korean border, in 2007. Mr. Garratt said he had wanted to address the suffering of those living across the border by providing aid to orphanages and a school for the disabled in North Korea.

That's admirable, to be sure, but aren't there people "suffering" within, say, a hundred miles or so of the Garratts' hometown? Did they really need to go halfway around the globe to help people? Or is there more to it than that? The piece calls the couple "Canadian Christian aid workers" (my emphasis) which implies to me, at least, that they were doing some missionary work as well. You know, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The story concludes with this paragraph (again, my emphasis):

Most of all, the Garratts feel grief at losing the lives they built over 30 years. “That’s the sadness that overwhelms us,” Mr. Garratt said. “We were just trying to help people in need. That’s all we did.”

Well, if that's all the Garratts were doing, couldn't they -- once again -- have done that in Vancouver? Or were they also evangelizing to the poor, ignorant heathen of China? You know what I mean: the Garratts think they have found The Truth somehow and just feel compelled to tell everyone else. And that probably irritated the Chinese authorities. After all, China has existed in some form or other for over four thousand years and many of the people there, I'd wager, feel they've done just fine, thank you very much, without Christianity for much of that time. Maybe the locals resented the fact that the Garretts had The Truth and were bugging everyone there to accept their version of it. Seriously, what is it about people who think that not only is their unique worldview correct, but it's also very important -- imperative, even -- for them to see that everyone else thinks exactly the way they do? Can't people just say, "I think I've got this whole reality thing figured out and I'll share it with you if you'd like, but, if not, that would be cool, too"?

My wife and I went to a wedding...

...in Indianapolis last summer and were seated at a table with some people we didn't know. One of the couples was from a suburb of Cincinnati, I think, and their daughter was best friends with the bride or something. (We were there as guests of the groom.) They were a nice couple, although I could tell from some of their verbal tics and catty remarks about "Hillary" that they were Fox News-watching Republicans. Whatever. Like I said, they were nice enough people. At one point the husband asked me whereabouts in Chicago did we live. When I answered, "The city," he got a horrified look on his face. "B-but, not in the city, right?" "Yep," I replied. "The Near West Side. Are you familiar with Chicago?" He just sat there stunned, as if someone had slapped him in the face. So I went into my canned speech about how my wife and I moved back to the city in 2014 after 22 years in the suburbs and how Chicago is nicer than it's ever been and how the long-term crime rate is actually dramatically down and blah, blah, blah. (If you're a regular reader of this blog I'm sure you're tired of hearing me go on and on about that. Sorry.)

But this morning the Times had a story from the Associated Press, "Chicago Ends Year With 762 Killings, the Most in 2 Decades," which takes one year, 2016, all out of context. Again, sorry to repeat all this stuff, but here goes:

Average annual murders in Chicago per decade:

1970s: 827.5
1980s: 738.1
1990s: 824
2000s: 550.3
2010s (so far): 502

See a trend? (If you're a more "visual" person, it's also in that graph at the top. Or you can read more here.)

But here's the point of this post: buried in the ninth and tenth paragraphs of that AP article is this (my emphasis):

The bulk of the fatal and nonfatal shootings, which jumped to 3,550 last year from 2,426 in 2015, occurred in only five neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides, all poor and predominantly black areas where gangs are most active.

The police said the shootings in those areas generally were not random, with more than 80 percent of the victims having previously been identified by the police as more susceptible because of their gang ties or past arrests.

Now, I don't know how the piece defines "neighborhoods," but if they are five of the 77 community areas of Chicago, that's only six percent of the city. In other words, this article isn't about the other 72 neighborhoods, or 94 percent of the city. So it's a little misleading, right? And if "80 percent of the victims" aren't "random," but are actually gang members or have been previously arrested, then the rest of us -- statistically, at least -- are probably pretty safe, right? (I wish I could assure my sister, that, yes, you're probably going to be "okay" strolling down Michigan Avenue.)

It's funny, this whole meme about Chicago being so "unsafe" has really taken on a life of its own. I suspect it's been pushed most aggressively by right-wing outlets like Fox News to discredit a) Democrats, who generally govern big cities; b) President Obama, who, along with his wife, hails from the Windy City; and c) let's face it: "minorities," who live here and seem to be the victims of all this violence.

Again, when Julie and I moved here two and a half years ago we couldn't get over how nice the city had become since we moved out in 1992. It particularly vexed me that our experience was so at odds with all the crime statistics we kept hearing. But now I get it: the stats have been taken out of context and really affect only a small part of the city and a certain subset of individuals.

Now don't get me wrong: one murder is too many. And I'd love to see those numbers go down; I'm tired of hearing all this trash-talk about Chicago. But, please, let's keep it in perspective. When I say that Chicago is nicer than it's ever been, I'm not just "talking my position." It's true!