Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Manuel Antonio Noriega, the...

...brash former dictator of Panama and sometime ally of the United States whose ties to drug trafficking led to his ouster in 1989 in what was then the largest American military action since the Vietnam War, died Monday night in Panama City. He was 83."

So reads the first two sentences of Manuel Noriega's obituary in the New York Times today. If you squint a little, though, it could have just as easily read:

"Saddam Hussein, the brash former dictator of Iraq and sometime ally of the United States whose ... ouster in 2003 in what was then the largest American military action since the Vietnam War..."

And my point is that I've always thought that President George H. W. Bush's invasion of Panama in 1989 served as the model for his son's invasion of Iraq fourteen years later.

Read the following and substitute "Saddam Hussein" and "Iraq" when necessary (my emphasis):

Mr. Noriega, who became the de facto leader of the country by promoting himself to full general of the armed forces in 1983, had a decades-long, head-spinning relationship with the United States, shifting from cooperative ally and informant for American drug and intelligence agencies to shady adversary, selling secrets to political enemies of the United States in the Western Hemisphere and tipping off drug cartels. Whose side he was on was often hard to tell.

“He craved power and became a tyrant,” Mr. Koster and Mr. S├ínchez wrote in laying out Mr. Noriega’s ultimate undoing. “He craved wealth and became a criminal. And the careers came in conflict.”

Mr. Noriega’s two-facedness was known to American officials. But they saw him as useful in helping them maintain influence in Panama at a time of leftist uprisings in Central America. He provided, for one thing, an important listening post in the region.

He grew more belligerent, however, and by 1989 American patience had run out

The United States Senate in 1986 overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on Panama to remove Mr. Noriega from the Panamanian Defense Forces pending an investigation of charges of corruption, election fraud, murder and drug trafficking.

“That was enough,” President George Bush said in announcing the invasion, which included more than 27,000 troops.

A White House statement as the invasion got underway said the United States had acted “to protect American lives, restore the democratic process, preserve the integrity of the Panama Canal treaties and apprehend Manuel Noriega.” Political commentators assigned other motives, including a way for Mr. Bush to shake off perceptions of weakness; his poll numbers rose significantly after the invasion.

Panamanian forces were overwhelmed as Mr. Noriega escaped into hiding, surfacing days later, on Dec. 24, at the Vatican Embassy in Panama City. Twenty-three American service members were killed and more than 300 wounded in the invasion; casualties among Panamanians have been disputed, with the Panamanian government at the time estimating that several hundred soldiers and civilians had died, while some human rights groups insist the toll was much higher.

He surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990, and was flown to jail in Florida, leaving behind a new president sworn in on an American military base and a new era for Panama.

If only Iraq had been that easy! But I think that was how it was supposed to go down: invade Iraq, be greeted as "liberators," capture Saddam Hussein and install a new Western-style democracy all within a month. Beautiful!

Spoiler alert: it didn't happen exactly that way.

But the bottom line is this: If you're a foreign leader and you piss off an American president named Bush don't be too surprised to find your country invaded and its leader (you) jailed or, worse, put to death. The corollary to this, of course, is that if you're an American president named Bush don't think this will all go quite as smoothly as it did for your dad. While history often rhymes, it is under no obligation to repeat itself.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I still feel very conflicted...

...about Hillary Clinton.

On the one hand, I think she would have made a very good, if not great, president: highly intelligent and hard-working with a more impressive command of policy than probably anyone else out there. (Kind of like the opposite of You-Know-Who.)

And then, on the other, I just can't believe what a horrible politician she is. I mean, come on, first she loses the Democratic nomination to a black freshman senator with the middle name Hussein and a last name that rhymes with Osama, and then to the least-qualified and most unfit candidate for president ever. And she was the overwhelming favorite in both. Sheesh! (Makes me sympathize a little with this guy.)

piece in New York Magazine also hints at a fatal flaw:

Her team recalled the persistent feeling of being in uncharted territory. As McIntosh says, “Should she have showed more emotion? I don’t know. We don’t know whether women who show less emotion get to be the president. Should she have been less hawkish? I don’t know. We don’t know if we can elect a pacifist woman president. We can’t point to where she diverges from a path that other women have taken because she was charting that path, and that might fuck with your analytics a bit, as it turns out.”

Double sheesh! Should we do this? Should we do that? And how does the fact that she's a woman impact all of it? Oy!

Just run as yourself. That's how Bernie and Barack and What's-His-Name all ran and look at how well they did.

Face it: some people are just not good at running for president: Al Gore, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton. Deal with it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Any obituary in the Times...

...that combines writing and surfing is going to catch my attention, particularly with a picture of a guy at a typewriter on a beach in California in front of a Volkswagen bus.

John Severson, whom I had never heard of before, "a pioneer of modern surf culture who founded Surfer magazine in 1962 and created paintings, films and photographs depicting the surfing lifestyle, died on Friday at his home outside Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui. He was 83."

Sounds right up my alley, doesn't it?

And then I read that Mr. Severson's name was pronounced SEA-ver-son and I thought, a guy with that name writing about the sea? That's Name of the Day-worthy!

P. S. His obit also mentions that Mr. Severson was drafted in 1956 and joined an Army surfing team. What?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Greg Allman, 1947-2017.

I guess "Ramblin' Man" was the first song I'd ever heard by The Allman Brothers Band. According to Wikipedia it was released in August 1973, but I'd swear they were playing it on the jukebox in my high school cafeteria when I was a freshman in 1972.

The song, written and sung by guitarist Dickey Betts (and the band's only top 10 single), contains the lyrics:

My father was a gambler down in Georgia,
He wound up on the wrong end of a gun.

Little did I know, according to his obit in the Times, that Greg Allman's father, "Willis Turner Allman, a combat veteran of World War II, was murdered by a hitchhiker in 1949."

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Sarah Vowell, an American author, journalist and essayist. In other words, someone who works with vowels for a living.

Friday, May 26, 2017

When I noticed...

...that the Pullman Strike of 1894 took place on May 11, I thought it would be a good excuse to finally explore this famous neighborhood on the Far Southeast Side.

I had originally planned on visiting Pullman on May 10, but rain forced us to postpone the trip. Then last week our Hike through Big Marsh took longer than I had expected and didn't leave enough time. So on Wednesday we set out again after eating sub sandwiches at Fontano's in Little Italy.

As the seven of us -- Dele, Michael, Nicco, John, Jack, Mike Novak (an old neighbor of ours from Glenview who joined us later) and me -- piled into two cars it began to sprinkle, and by the time we got off the expressway at East 95th Street (yes, East) it was positively pouring. (I was beginning to think that the universe just didn't want us to go to Pullman for some reason.) We pressed on, however, and arrived at our destination, 111th Street and Cottage Grove, a little before seven o'clock.

Now what? It was still raining but we decided to wait a few minutes in the parking lot in case the skies happened to clear up. And, as if by magic, they did. Or at least enough for us to get out of the car and walk around the "town" a little.

But first, I suppose, I should answer the question, Just what the heck is "Pullman" anyway?

According to Wikipedia, Pullman is one of Chicago's 77 defined community areas. The neighborhood in which we were interested, from 111th on the north to 115th on the south between Cottage Grove and the railroad tracks, is only about a half-mile square and easily walkable.

Historic Pullman was built in the 1880s by George Pullman as workers' housing for employees of his eponymous railroad car company, the Pullman Palace Car Company. He established behavioral standards that workers had to meet to live in the area and charged them rent. Pullman's architect, Solon Spencer Beman, was said to be extremely proud that he had met all the workers' needs within the neighborhood he designed. The distinctive rowhouses were comfortable by standards of the day, and contained such amenities as indoor plumbing, gas, and sewers.

The first thing we noticed from the parking lot was the Stables, above, at the corner of 112th Street and Forrestville.

How can you tell it was originally built to house equines? By the wooden horse heads, of course. (You'd be forgiven for having flashbacks of that famous scene in The Godfather.)

From there we turned east and encountered the magnificent Greenstone United Methodist Church on 112th and St. Lawrence. Established in 1882 as a Universalist Church "for all to unite in a union body and get a broad-minded evangelical clergyman," its first minister was Pullman's brother, the Rev. Dr. James Pullman. The building was later leased to a Presbyterian congregation and then sold to the Methodists in 1907.

The church is constructed of green limestone imported from Pennsylvania (or New England, depending on your source) and unlike anything I've ever seen. Apparently the interior, much of which is carved from cherry wood, is equally beautiful, but we only saw it from the outside.

According to my handy-dandy AIA Guide to Chicago:

This showpiece combines the peaked roofs of the Gothic with the round-arched openings and rock-faced masonry popularized by H. H. Richardson. 

(Hence the term Richardsonian Romanesque.)

Walking farther east on 112th Street brought us to Market Hall, a town square (or circle?):

Four excruciatingly narrow curved units with bachelor apartments above arcades are bookended with matching town houses in this touch of Italy. They were inserted into the town fabric after a market hall on this site burned down. In the center is the remaining single story of the second Pullman Market Hall.

I have to say, passing through this section of Pullman was a little disorienting, but in a good way. I felt like an American G.I. walking into the middle of a small European village after it was bombed in World War II. Dele said if it wasn't for the late model cars he would have thought he had traveled back in time. It was very cool. You have to see it!

The weather was still cooperating so we turned down a few of the side streets and checked out some of the original 900 rowhouses. Solon S. Beman, Pullman's architect, designed these five-room "worker's cottages" (is that where Cottage Grove Avenue got its name?) in widths from fourteen to twenty-two feet. Each contained a front parlor and rear kitchen/dining room on the main floor. Upstairs were a front bedroom and two small rear ones split by a skylit stair hall that led to a "water closet." None of the original five-room houses are in their original state; on some, for example, porches have been added.

It began to rain -- again! -- so we ducked into the Pullman Cafe, which appeared like a deus ex machina across from the church on St. Lawrence. It had closed just a few minutes earlier at seven o'clock but when the owner, a very personable young man named Ian (third from the left in the picture below), saw our motley crew he conveniently flipped the CLOSED sign around to OPEN. (Maybe the universe wasn't conspiring against us after all.)

Most of the items had been put away for the day but we were still able to order a small pizza and some drinks. (It's important to keep your strength up on these Hikes.) There were also a few of the locals in there and we learned from one of them that Pullman is known as the "City of Bricks." He said we could consult their Facebook page about upcoming Sunday afternoon walking tours.

The rain had let up again by the time we finished eating and Ian, who is also an artist, took us outside for a short tour of the alley in back which functions as a sort of outdoor neighborhood art gallery. A transplant from Los Angeles, of all places, Ian made his way to Pullman a few years ago where he opened the cafe and found himself in the midst of a budding local art community. He explained that many artists were migrating to Pullman after being priced out of more traditional bohemian neighborhoods such as Pilsen and Wicker Park. (Is "traditional bohemian" an oxymoron?)

John later asked me how the art survived the elements, particularly the harsh Chicago winters. I don't know; we'll have to ask Ian next time we visit Pullman. And, believe me, there will be a next time.

The neighborhood's fortunes may have peaked around the time of the Pullman Strike in 1894, which lasted for two months and led to intervention by the U.S. government and military. George Pullman died three years later and in 1898 the Illinois Supreme Court found the company in violation of a state law forbidding businesses to own land in excess of their industrial needs (who knew?). The following year, the town and other major portions of the South Side were annexed by the City of Chicago. And by 1907 the court-ordered sale of Pullman had been completed.

While the Pullman Company continued to prosper well into the 1920s, it was sold to a consortium of railroads in 1947, and in 1981 the last of the Pullman works was closed.

The neighborhood went into a slow, steady decline after World War II as jobs and people migrated to the suburbs. In 1960 the original Town of Pullman, approximately between 103rd and 115th Streets, was threatened with total demolition for an industrial park. Forming the Pullman Civic Organization, the residents lobbied the city and saved their community. In 1969 it was designated a National Landmark Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In recent years Pullman has seen a resurgence with the rest of the city as newer residents have moved into the neighborhood. In a contest sponsored by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Pullman was one of seven sites nominated for the Illinois Seven Wonders.

There are a number of other historic and architecturally significant buildings in Pullman which I didn't take pictures of, including the Hotel Florence (currently under restoration) and the Clock Tower and Factory (just north of 111th on Cottage Grove). But it gives me an excuse to visit another time.

P. S. Before finishing I just have to share a nice email I received this week:

Your neighborhood walks with the young men of 1212 W. Flournoy appear to be a kind of ministry of yours. I imagine there is a communing of sorts.

Thanks Tom!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to economist Richard Bookstaber.

It's not that his last name is necessarily that odd, it's just that I've never heard it before. And taken in the context in which I just read it -- that he recently wrote a book -- is just too coincidental to pass up.

Friday, May 19, 2017

An article in Bloomberg...

...with the title, "The Next Shortage Facing Young Homebuyers: Good Schools," and the subtitle, "Since the recession, funding for construction has cratered," has me thinking about education.

I have a few thoughts on the subject (surprised?), some of which are admittedly contradictory while others are pure fantasy. But here goes.

First of all, I should state that as a late-blooming pragmatist my overarching rule should be: Do what works. (Rule No. 2: When in doubt, refer back to Rule No. 1.)

Having said that, if I were King for a Day I would immediately close all the private schools in America and make everyone attend local public schools, which would all be financed equally by the federal government. (All fantasy, especially the "king" part.)

But can we at least dispense with the fiction of "public" schools? New Trier, for example, isn't a "public" school; you have to buy or rent in its district to attend. And you have to pay a premium on that property in part because it's in the New Trier school district (it's circular, I know). But a truly "public" school system would be financed in a much more equitable fashion, wouldn't it?

Maybe I should provide a little personal background before I go any further. Coming from a typical post-war Catholic family I was educated at parish primary schools and Catholic high schools and colleges. Note the plural there; we moved around a lot and I attended a total of ten schools in my life, eight of which were Catholic. They were bracketed by public school for kindergarten and a private university for graduate school. But I attended four Catholic elementary schools, two Catholic high schools and two Catholic colleges. (The last one was my doing, not my father's.)

My wife, on the other hand, also has a master's degree but attended exactly two schools in her life from kindergarten all the way up to graduate school. Unlike me, Julie went to a fancy, nonsectarian private school in Milwaukee before matriculating to Northwestern.

(Whenever my wife says she's Catholic, by the way, I think, "You're not Catholic; I'm Catholic." It reminds me of that scene near the end of Breaking Away, above, in which the father tells his son, "You're not a cutter; I'm a cutter." In other words, if you didn't suffer through Catholic schools like I did you're not really culturally Catholic. I've often joked that while my wife's mother was an Irish Catholic and her father a secular Jew she and her brother are WASPs, due to their education. She doesn't like that joke for some reason. But it's true: if you grow up in Catholic schools you're Catholic; if you grow up in a WASPy environment you're a WASP. More on that later.)

Now as for me, I hated moving and I hated Catholic schools. I hated the nuns, the uniforms, the heavy-handed discipline, and the fact that I didn't attend the local public school like my friends in the neighborhood but instead some exotic religious school across town. "Where do you go, again? Our Lady of what? I heard they hit you with rulers there. Is that true?"

And with all that manic moving I just desperately wanted to be a part of the town in which I lived like everyone else. I envied the rest of the kids in Little League, for example, who seemed to know all the other players and coaches.

As a result, I had only two goals as an adult: to raise my children in one place and to not send them to Catholic schools. While those may sound like modest, if not downright pathetic, life goals I realized recently that they were actually in keeping with that age-old desire of every parent to give their offspring a better life than they had. Since I really couldn't improve on my own upbringing materially, unlike every other generation in history, I could at least give my kids a better childhood than I had. They may never have belonged to an exclusive country club -- where I never felt comfortable anyway -- or be chauffeured around in a Cadillac, but they could at least grow up in one house and go to the local public schools with their neighbors. And I consider that to be an improvement over my own childhood.

So that's why I have a natural affinity for public schools, and why we sent our own two sons to the local public schools. But it goes beyond that: I also have an affinity for public education.

What do I have against private and parochial schools? Well, although I'm not convinced that formal education is nearly as crucial as everyone else seems to think (I'd say heredity is a better predictor of success in life than anything else), I'll go along with the consensus for a minute and assume that it is. And if education is really as important as everyone thinks then shouldn't everyone get the same education? Is it really fair (and in keeping with American egalitarianism) for Bruce Rauner's kid to go to New Trier while a poor kid from Garfield Park has to attend Al Raby High School in the city? (Again, I'd argue that Rauner's kid is destined to be rich anyway while that poor kid from the West Side is destined to be poor, but that's another conversation.) But shouldn't everyone in America get the same start in life, the same quality of education? (Aren't conservatives always talking about "equal opportunity, not equal outcomes"?) And if that's true, shouldn't funding for schools be centralized, rather than dependent on property taxes like in Illinois? And shouldn't all kids be forced (yes, I said the word "forced") to go to these public schools? (I'm looking at you President Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.)

But what about religious schools? you might ask. And even an agnostic like me has to concede that that's a fair point. Nearly all of my relatives were educated in Catholic schools and want to send their own kids to the local parish school. I get that. (We had a neighbor in Glenview who worried that the Catholic kids who attended public school couldn't even recite a prayer correctly. Psst: religion is mostly about culture -- another conversation for another time.) But, again, I get it: some people want to send their kids to a Catholic school, or a Lutheran school, or an evangelical Christian school, or a Jewish school, or a Muslim school, or whatever. What's the harm, you might say, in that? And I would maintain that, besides giving everyone an equal start, public schools require everyone to go to school with everyone else: rich kids with the middle class and poor; white kids with black and brown; Catholics with Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.; smart kids with not-so-smart; jocks with nerds; typically-developing kids with the disabled, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And you know what? Catholics, for example, might find out that Jews aren't so different from them after all. (Imagine that?) And, most important, we'd learn that we're all Americans just trying to live our lives: work, go to school, raise kids, make a marriage work, etc. Public schools, I think, foster a sense of Americanism: we're all in this together, our similarities outweigh our differences, and what benefits one benefits all. I really believe in that. (Might that help, by the way, with all this crazy polarization we're currently experiencing? For instance, I've become friends in the last couple of years with a Southern Baptist minister. We have coffee once in a while and I've often told him that more people like me should meet more people like him. Southern Baptists might discover that agnostics aren't necessarily libertine heathens while agnostics might learn that not all evangelicals are intolerant, judgmental cretins.)

As for magnet schools, charter schools and vouchers (depending on the research, which I believe is incomplete), well, I have to refer back to Rule No. 1: Do what works best. Parents in the city of Chicago, for example, want more, not fewer, school choices. And I get that too.

So to sum it up: everyone should go to their local public school with the same funding source. Private schools, whether religious or not, contribute to the Balkanization of America. But I realize this is fantasy; after all, I think private schools in this country preceded public ones, so they're not going anywhere. And the rich are never going to give up their privileges. So where does that leave us? Well, I think if nothing else we could make the funding fairer; rely less on property taxes and more on, say, state income taxes or the federal government. But, beyond that, we're in Fantasyland.

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Ransom LaLonde, shortstop for the Windy City ThunderBolts of the Frontier League.

Hat tip: Kevin G.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Last Thursday was the 123rd...

...anniversary of the Pullman Strike so I thought it would be a good occasion to take our weekly Hike down in that neighborhood. It rained on Wednesday, though, so we had to postpone our trip until last night.

While we were down on the Far Southeast Side, I figured we could kill two birds with one stone and visit Big Marsh.

What is "Big Marsh"? (Hint: it's not my brother-in-law Ed Marsh.) According to the Chicago Park District's website (my emphasis):

Park 564 "Big Marsh" is a 278-acre property on the Southeast Side of Chicago in the area commonly known as the Calumet Area Reserve. Once an active industrial property, the site was acquired by the Park District in 2011 and opened as a new public park in 2016. The vision of Big Marsh is to provide a new type of recreation in Chicago that marries habitat restoration with public use. Roughly 45 acres are developed for eco-recreation opportunities including hiking, adventure courses, and off-road biking. The eco-recreation elements are located primarily on existing slag fields where plants have a hard time growing and good habitat creation is unlikely. Other acreage is reserved for more passive recreation including bird-watching and nature walking. All acreage is being developed to protect or further enhance the overall natural habitat of the park property including sensitivity to flora, fauna, and wetlands. Through much planning, investment, and local stakeholder input, Big Marsh is now a safe, open, and inviting park space for Chicago and the neighboring communities.

I wasn't familiar with the area and, besides, we needed to let rush hour traffic die down a little, so we ate dinner in the neighborhood first, at Carm's in Little Italy. (Public transportation would have been difficult so we opted to drive.) Steve, the owner, was happy to see us but commented that we were only there because I felt guilty for walking my dog, Stewart, past the restaurant every day without ever stopping in. (He wasn't too far off.)

After a hearty meal of mostly hot dogs and cheeseburgers, we left 1212 W. Flournoy in two cars a little after six o'clock and arrived at Big Marsh just before seven. With the exception of a couple of people on bicycles the seven of us were the only ones in the park. It didn't seem quite finished and is definitely geared more toward bike-riding. (Yes, pun intended.) But just look at those pictures. Hard to believe you're still in the City of Chicago!

Big Marsh is actually located in South Deering, not Pullman. The largest of the 77 official community areas of Chicago, South Deering was traditionally an industrial neighborhood, consisting of only a small group of homes in the northeast corner with Lake Calumet taking up most of the remainder. It was the home of the now defunct Wisconsin Steel Works, originally the Joseph H. Brown Iron and Steel Company, which opened in 1875 and was the first steel mill in the entire Calumet region. Since the closing of the plant, the neighborhood has gone through an economic depression.

Oh, and South Deering is in the 10th Ward, once the power base of Alderman Edward ("Fast Eddie") Vrdolyak. Remember him?

(It was also the home for a time of the notorious mass murderer Richard Speck -- yikes! -- and it's probably just as well we didn't know that when we were tramping around the place alone.)

After admiring the view, taking some pictures and braving the wind (at least it was warm out!) for about an hour or so we returned to the parking lot. We hadn't made it to Pullman yet and there were still a couple of landmarks I wanted to see. Dele and Michael chose to go back, but Alan, Bradon, Jack, John and I decided to drive over and at least check out the Pullman National Monument.

It was only a few minutes away and all I can say is, Oh My God! (Or, OMG, as the kids say nowadays.) A small area, bounded only by 111th Street on the North, 115th on the South, Cottage Grove to the West and the railroad tracks on the East, the neighborhood contains a very cool church made of greenish stone, a market square (or circle) of some sort as well as blocks and blocks of row houses. We were all tempted to get out and resume our Hike but agreed it was getting too dark. "We should come back here sometime," I said. "Yeah," someone replied, "How about next week?" Everyone nodded enthusiastically, and John said, "It can be Part II of a two-part Hike." "Brilliant!" I decided.

So we drove home with the knowledge that next week, weather permitting, held the promise for a very good Hike. And we'll get there early enough to take plenty of pictures. How come I had never been to Pullman before?!?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I can't believe I wrote...

...that last post before reading in Bloomberg, "How Trump’s Rust Belt Voters Have Changed Since the Election."

It's hard to be "all-in" for democracy after reading some of these profiles. Check out these responses to the following questions (all emphasis mine).

William Chaney, 41, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, is an account executive at a wholesale mortgage lender and married with one son.

On February 15, when Andy Puzder withdrew his name to become Department of Labor secretary, Mr. Chaney said:

I do feel a little sorry for Trump on how he has been treated by the Democrats during his first month. Had the Republicans obstructed Obama like that, we’d have been labeled racist. Honestly, if Trump were to hang himself with a brand new rope, the left would find something to criticize.

Bryn Biemeck, 31, of Milwaukee, is single and a fast-food worker. Until recently she was a life coach living with her mother.

A life coach who still lives at home?

On May 5, after House approval of the Republican health-care bill (which would presumably take away her health insurance) she said:

I’m more inclined to think it’s part-way decent, though my stance is still that I would prefer a full repeal.

Kim Woodrosky, 53, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, is a single real estate investor. Same question, about Trump's health-care bill:

I have a feeling the Senate is going to put a stop to the whole thing.

She'd better hope so.

Michael Makowski, 54, of Concordville, Pennsylvania is a small-business owner and married with three children. Same question:

I’m happy about it. Sounds like it’s going to save us a little bit of money and not hurt too many people.

Except him and his family, probably.

On January 30, after a weekend of airport protests in opposition to Trump’s immigration order, Mr. Makowski said:

They’re worried he’s going to put them back to work. If you can stand in the middle of a highway and wave a cell phone in the middle of the night, you're certainly capable of holding a job during the day.


Tom Anslow, 62, of Port Clinton, Ohio is semi-retired and married with three children.

On December 13, shortly after Trump was elected, Mr. Anslow said:

We are hurting over health care. It’s a weekly discussion in our house. I never wanted to be 65 in my life, but I do now.

Wow. Sounds like this guy can't wait for single-payer Medicare. The next three years could be a long wait.

Geno DiFabio, 54, of Youngstown, Ohio, is a driver for an industrial repair shop and married with one child.

In regard to the health care bill:

I think that when we see the final product, it's going to be better than what we have. I'm hoping.

Keep hoping.

On Mar 22, Mr. DiFabio said:

All they’re doing is solidifying the people that voted for him, believe me. Sometimes he says stupid stuff, but he’s still the only one that’s going to do anything for us, fight for us, actually fight for us.

And I think that's the secret to Trump's success: he was the only candidate (except Bernie Sanders) who actually spoke to the white working class. They're hurting and they want to be heard.

Tom Viviano, 50, of Sterling Heights, Michigan is a program manager for a car-industry automation company and married with four children.

On Mar 17, when asked why the stock market and small businesses are so enthusiastic, he said:

It’s so much different with Trump after Obama disillusioned them.

The Dow rallied 140 percent under President Obama. Where do you suppose this guy gets his information?

Finally, there's Ann Peterson, 51, of Rochester, Michigan a real estate broker/dealer who's divorced with two children.

On April 6, after the Neil Gorsuch decision appeared heading for the nuclear option, she said:

The hard part is, with watching the news, is you don’t even know who is telling the truth anymore. So I don’t really watch the news. I have been following a lot of the other people who give real news. On TV, you’re just not getting it. I follow Michael Savage.

Well I guess that answers my previous question.

I hope I don't sound like a snob, here; I really don't. And maybe I'm no better informed than any of these nice people -- heck, I get my news from the mainstream media. But maybe -- just maybe -- the political "elites" are called "elite" for a reason. Maybe they know what they're doing.

Remember, folks, we're less...

...than four months into what's supposed to be a four-year term. (I'll let that sink in for a second.)*

And for me one of the many, many morals of the story so far is that the two major parties really need to get a better handle on whom they nominate for president. This task may be too serious to leave to the whims of primary voters.

While I'm all for caucuses, primaries and democracy (especially in the general election), I think both parties need to have more, not fewer, super delegates. That way they can assure us -- and the rest of the world -- that the nominee of their party is at least minimally qualified, and temperamentally suited, for the most consequential job on the planet. (Gee, that sounds important, doesn't it?) No matter what you might have thought of any of the other Republican and/or Democratic candidates for president in 2016, they at least all met that standard -- you could credibly see any one of them in the Oval Office.

(Think about it for a second: would you let a jackass like Trump even run your homeowners' association?)

Now if some eccentric businessman (like Ross Perot) or celebrity (like the Rock or Kanye West) wants to run for president in the years ahead he or she can run as a third-party candidate and garner some protest votes. (And if they're really that good they can win; I'm not saying we should abandon democracy entirely.) But if that individual wants the nomination of one of the two major parties he or she would have to earn the approval of the party elders. They may take a close look at him and all agree, "Yeah, this guy is real. He can be our standard-bearer." Or they might say to a Ronald Reagan or an Al Franken, "Why don't you run for governor or senator and see how that works out first?"

We simply cannot be subjected to something like Donald Trump again.

* Do I think Trump will serve out his term? Who the hell knows?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

As someone who trades...

...securities for a living I can honestly say that I don't add much value to society. Oh, sure, the private investment partnership for which I work provides "needed liquidity" to the markets, blah, blah, but it's really about making money for ourselves. And there's nothing wrong with that. After all, the guy who came up with the idea for Pet Rocks didn't exactly develop a cure for cancer either. No, in a capitalist system like ours people make money in all kinds of ways, not just by helping society, like doctors and social workers. Hey, we all have to eat.

An article in the Times today, "Hedge Fund Managers Don’t Always Beat the Market, but They Still Make Billions," talks about how "the top fund managers still haul in enormous paychecks," regardless of "good performance, mediocre results or even downright ugly returns."

According to Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, "the 25 best-paid hedge fund managers earned a collective $11 billion in 2016." And, believe it or not, I'm okay with that. (Although I can see why others wouldn't be.) To give you an idea of the numbers we're talking about here (my emphasis):

The top earner of 2016 was James Simons, the former code breaker for the National Security Agency and the founder of Renaissance Technologies, who made $1.6 billion. Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates who is best known for his philosophy of “radical transparency,” came in a close second with $1.4 billion.

And my attitude is, good for them. They're probably really smart, really hard-working guys. I don't care if their funds underperform the market because I'm not invested in them. (When people ask me for financial advice I always tell them to put all their money in index funds and just forget about them.)

But what this piece did make me think about was not the return these guys achieve for their clients but rather the amount of money they contribute to the operation of the federal government.

The top rate is currently 39.6 percent, right? But under Eisenhower it was as high as 91 percent. (I know, I know, the effective rate was much lower, but that's a conversation about deductions, not marginal rates.)

And I wonder, are the rich paying enough in taxes? (When I brought that up recently to my brother he implied I was envious. And I am -- I'm trying to get rich too. But that doesn't mean we can't talk about marginal tax rates.)

Now I know all the arguments in favor of lower taxes. (I used to be a libertarian, remember?) "The rich will leave the country!" is one you often hear. And I think of Ken Griffin (above, with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner) and Sam Zell, a couple of local billionaires. And I think, go ahead, leave Illinois: without those two Rauner would have never been elected and the state might actually have a budget by now.

According to that piece in the Times, Griffin only returned five percent for his investors in 2016. Caveat emptor, I say. But Griffin himself took home $600 million. Again, good for him! He's a businessman. But what did he "kick back" to keep this operation (the United States) running? At a top rate of 39.6 percent a heck of a lot less than 91 percent (even with all the loopholes) or even 50 percent, which would be considered confiscatory by today's standards.

And now these guys want even lower rates? Good God, their greed knows no bounds! I say we start looking at higher, not lower, marginal tax rates, and if these Masters of the Universe don't like it they can take their hedge funds elsewhere. (Try starting a business in Uganda.) As I said at the top of this post, it's not like they're contributing a whole lot to the betterment of society.

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to John Batchelor, who writes for the Daily Beast.

Normally, I'd end the post right there, but Mr. Batchelor is also the author of "The Civil War of 2017."

While the piece itself isn't all that great its title brings up an idea I've been talking about for some time now: the United States is currently in the midst of a kind of low-grade, non-shooting civil war between Republicans and Democrats.

(I would actually take it a step further and call it a religious war, not unlike the ones between Protestants and Catholics during sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. Seriously. Rather than fighting over the Pope, today's combatants disagree about the federal government. Should it have an active role, as suggested by the New Deal and the Great Society? Or should it retreat to a more libertarian ideal, like that which preceded FDR and the Great Depression? The reason I think it's "religious" is that the two sides hold core beliefs which are somewhat axiomatic; they can't be argued. Either you believe in one or you believe in the other.)

But if what we're experiencing now is a civil, not a religious, war it's also unlike the one that took place from 1861-65 in that it isn't based on geography (although it kind of is, with rural areas facing off against metropolitan areas, with the suburbs caught in between), but cuts across families.

Unlike the old "brother against brother" slogan* used to describe "the predicament faced in families (primarily, but not exclusively, residents of border states) in which loyalties and military service were divided between the Union and the Confederacy," today's civil war probably affects most families, doesn't it? Can't you think of at least two members of your own family who are on such opposite sides of the current political divide that they can barely stand each other? (Last year I read that families in America were so divided that many had to have separate Thanksgivings!)

Take my sister and me, for example. I love her, I suppose (she's my sister after all). Joanne is the oldest, I'm the youngest, and we both love politics and current events (and arguing). The difference, though, is that she and her husband are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans while I've evolved into a Democrat in recent years. (To give you an idea how "bad" they are, as Baby Boomers in the 1960s their one act of rebellion was to vote for Nelson Rockefeller in the 1968 Republican Primary instead of the parentally-approved Richard Nixon. Oy!)

And it's gotten to the point where we simply can't talk about politics to each other. At all. It's never been said out loud, but whenever we get together now we avoid the subject entirely. If we do, we get along just fine (she's actually a good person). But we don't just disagree on policy, we disagree on the actual facts themselves. It's true: my sister and I live in entirely different universes. Which one of us is right? Who knows?

Incidentally, our disputes also carry into religion itself: my sister is a devout Catholic while I'm an agnostic. (She once confided that she "has to receive the Eucharist at least once a week." What does that even mean?) And I read once that the most reliable indicator of whether one was a Republican or Democrat is the frequency of attending religious services. Those who go to church weekly, for example, are most likely to be Republicans. So the "war" has a religious dimension to it as well.

(Honestly, I'd be hard-pressed to think of something Joanne and I do agree on. She's a Sox fan, I'm a Cubs fan; she lives in a gated community in a suburb as far from the city as possible, I live on the Near West Side of Chicago -- I could go on and on.)

But isn't it true that Republicans and Democrats are in a kind of civil war? They can't work together on anything. The United States has to be more polarized than at any time since the real Civil War. (I was around during Vietnam and I think today is even worse.)

So how do we get out of this civil war? How does it end? I have no idea. I kind of expect it to last for the rest of my life. I really do; I see no way out of it. I hope someday the two sides can at least share the same reality, but that sounds like a long way off to me.

* Apparently this was a real thing. According to Wikipedia, "There are a number of stories of brothers fighting in the same battles on opposite sides, or even of brothers killing brothers over the issues."

Monday, May 15, 2017

An opinion piece... the Times today asks the question, "Was Donald Trump’s surprise victory due to his voters’ racism or their economic anxiety?"

This is probably the biggest question from last November's election and sure to be the subject of many a PhD thesis in the years to come.

The piece goes on to say, "The right answer might be that it was both."

And while I think that's probably the right answer, too, I would put it a little differently: economic anxiety led to voters' racism, which was always simmering just beneath the surface. (I know I've written about this before, but I feel like writing about it again.)

When I was growing up my parents only knew other Catholics -- usually Irish Catholics -- and didn't really want to know anyone else. Like the rest of their friends, relatives and acquaintances, i. e., their "tribe," my parents not only didn't like blacks or Jews, but weren't too comfortable around Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, WASPs or anyone else. Why? Although they never said so, I'm sure their answer (under truth serum) would have been something like, "Can't trust 'em; they're different from us." No, if you didn't look and act and worship like my parents they just didn't want to know you.

Were my parents terrible, horrible bigots? Not really. Just typical post-war suburbanites. Since they both grew up in "virtual" Irish Catholic "ghettos" in Oak Park and the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, they didn't really know anyone who wasn't Irish or Catholic. As a result, they didn't trust anyone who was outside of their tribe. And I'd say that's actually pretty typical human behavior. You generally fear what you don't know, right? You stick with your own, your "tribe."

But unlike white southerners following the Civil War or Germans after World War I, my parents took part in the great post-war prosperity and thus felt no need to join the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi Party or anything. My dad was far too preoccupied with his burgeoning career or watching sports on TV to worry about any other ethnic group impinging on his lifestyle. Besides, his lifestyle was great; every year he got a bonus or a raise or a promotion. Sometimes all three!

So when times are good people's fears take a back seat. In fact, they get buried farther and farther into the recesses of their lizard brains. During economic boom times all anyone seems to care about is their next job or promotion or raise and how they're going to spend it. A boat? New kitchen? New house? The possibilities are endless. And when times are good the average person just comes home from work and goes to his kid's Little League game or invites the neighbors over for a barbecue or whatever. What they don't do is get in the car and go to their Congressman's town hall meeting and shout at him about health care policy. (In good times people often don't even know who their Congressman is. Why would they?)

But in the last few decades, as the economy has gotten harder and harder for the white working class "tribe" their members have been searching around for a scapegoat. Political elites in Washington?Economic elites on Wall Street? Bad trade deals with Mexico and China? Immigrants, particularly Latinos and Muslims? Blacks and Jews (always a convenient scapegoat)? There has to be some nefarious reason behind their declining wealth and incomes!

So I'd say that economic anxiety, which is real, led to latent racism coming to the fore. People are scared. But you watch, when things get better (as they always do) the white working class (and everyone else) will go back to watching TV at night and visiting their grandchildren on weekends. Go to a town hall? What for?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

I just noticed...

...that this blog, which I began in October, 2008, just surpassed half a million pageviews yesterday. Thanks for reading, everyone!

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Robert Mickey, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan.

When I first encountered his name in a piece in the Times yesterday, "Comey’s Firing Tests Strength of the 'Guardrails of Democracy,' " it didn't strike me as so odd. But then the second to last paragraph begins with, "Mr. Mickey, however..." and I thought, it's a little hard to take anyone seriously with a name like Mr. Mickey.

"Now don't get angry, Mr. Mickey."

"Cheer up, Mr. Mickey."

"See here, Mr. Mickey!"

How do you say any of those sentences without breaking into laughter?

P. S. The writer of this headline in an article in the Michigan Daily was so distracted apparently by his last name that he referred to him as David Mickey.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The fate of the Republic...

...may rest on this guy's shoulders.

Now, I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but does Rod Rosenstein look like the kind of guy who could stand up to Donald Trump?

God help us. (I guess it's true: there are no atheists in foxholes.)

Stan Weston, who...

...created G.I. Joe, died at age 84. From his New York Times obit (my emphasis):

As payment, Hasbro offered him $75,000 or a tiny royalty fee that was below the industry norm because he was new to the toy business, his daughter said. Eventually, he asked for $100,000, and Hasbro agreed.

“When he saw the line at the 1964 Toy Fair,” she said, “he knew he had made a mistake.”

The value of the copyright interests that Mr. Weston transferred to Hasbro later exceeded $100 million. Ouch.

Oh, and did I have a G.I. Joe? Are you kidding? Absolutely!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

After graduating from college... 1941, my father returned to Chicago and got a job with the retailing giant Montgomery Ward. I imagine he intended to establish himself there before proposing to my mother, whom he'd dated off and on since high school. But in December of that year the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States found itself at war. When he reported to his local draft board my dad was classified 4F ("not acceptable for military service") due to a childhood accident that left him hearing-impaired (what we used to call "deaf") in one ear. By 1943, however, the demand for young men was so great that he was "called up" anyway and sent "overseas" to the Pacific where he served until the end of the war.

Was my father patriotic? I suppose, but no more so than anyone else. Did he hate the Japanese? Probably not before they bombed Pearl Harbor. In fact, I doubt if he could have found Japan on a map before that; he certainly didn't mind doing business with the Japanese after the war. Was he a member of the "Greatest Generation"? Honestly, I think he would have laughed at that. "Hey, they called me and I went -- simple as that."

In 1946 my dad received an honorable discharge from the Army and resumed civilian life. He rarely talked about the war or his service in it; I think he was genuinely bored by the subject. (He was far more animated by sports or business.) But one night he did confide in us that he was glad that none of his four sons had to serve in the military like he did. "It was a bitch," he said, between sips from a martini.

(My sister's husband did serve in Vietnam for one year. He drew a "bad" number in the lottery and, rather than wait to be drafted and serve as a "grunt" on Search and Destroy missions in the jungle, enlisted and was able to "choose" Military Intelligence. They shipped him and my sister off to Monterey, California in 1969 where he spent a year learning Vietnamese. Once "in country," he mostly sat behind a desk in Saigon.)

I was too young for Vietnam; in fact, I think the year I turned 18 -- 1976 -- may have been the first year they stopped issuing draft cards. But I've often wondered what I would have done had I been born, say, ten years earlier and was subject to the draft. Like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Trump and many, many others, I probably would have done anything to avoid combat: obtain a college deferment, enlist like my brother-in-law did, or make use of some other creative scheme. But, if worse came to worst, I think I would have gone anyway. Why? Because it would have probably been better for me to just take my chances rather than going to Canada or -- worse -- jail. To be clear, I'm no hero: I just think serving, like my dad did in World War II, would have been preferable to not serving.

Okay, you're probably wondering about now, what is the point of all this? (And why am I putting so many words in "quotation" marks all of a sudden?)

And the point is that I've been reading a book lately, The Nightingale's Song, which is about "the military and political careers of five graduates of the United States Naval Academy, most of whom served during the Vietnam War in either the United States Navy or United States Marine Corps: John McCain, Bud McFarlane, Oliver North, John Poindexter and Jim Webb."

The author, Robert Timberg, is a journalist who also graduated from the Naval Academy and was wounded in Vietnam. Timberg writes a lot in the book about "duty, honor, country," etc., and I'm struck by how differently he and the five subjects of the book feel about military service than my family did. To repeat, my dad served in the Army because he was drafted, my brother-in-law enlisted to avoid being drafted, while the rest of us were just plain lucky. Had any of us been drafted, I think we would have served as the least bad option. But in no case were any of us dying to go to war to "serve our country." We just didn't think like that.

And that's the whole point of this post: are some people just born to serve in the military? Is it a function of their DNA? And is that true for other things as well? Are you religious (or not), for example, because you were born that way? Are you liberal, or conservative, for the same reason? I'm starting to wonder. Do you view reality objectively, or are you merely hostage to some worldview you inherited, like the color of your eyes? After all, who's to say whether religious people are right or not? Or whether conservatives are right or not? Maybe we're just born with these tendencies and we're wasting our time arguing with each other.

Take an issue -- any issue -- like abortion, for instance. Is there anyone in America who doesn't have a strong opinion on the subject? (And is there anyone who doesn't think they're right?) I think you'll agree that there are many intelligent, well-meaning people on both sides of the argument. But how can that be? Wouldn't your ability to reason lead you to one conclusion or the other? Maybe not. Maybe you either just think it's an innocent human life that begins at conception or you think it's a woman's right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

Maybe we're kidding ourselves when we think we've thought it all out carefully and arrived at the only reasonable conclusion. Maybe we were born (or bred, but that's another conversation) to think about abortion the way we do. And maybe that's true for most everything. Who knows?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Here's my Donald Trump...

...Question of the Day, in the wake of the Comey firing:

Is the president covering up his embarrassment that he didn't realize so many of his associates were connected to Russia, or is he just guilty as hell?

Seriously, I don't know the answer.

On the one hand, maybe Paul Manafort was one of the only people available with the expertise to take over the Trump campaign, but because of his shady ties no other Republican would touch him and Trump either didn't know or didn't care. (Or didn't want to know.)

(I could kinda, sorta believe something similar about Chris Christie and "Bridgegate": Don't tell the boss what he doesn't need to know so that he can claim ignorance if you get caught. "I'm shocked -- shocked -- to find that gambling is going on in here!")

Same with Carter Page, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn (and whoever else): maybe they concealed their involvement with Russia and now Trump is too ashamed to admit they pulled one over on the "savvy business tycoon."

Or am I just thinking too much?

If Trump isn't guilty of something he sure is acting like someone who is. With his history of business dealings with Russia maybe that's the most likely answer. Who knows? But one thing I'm certain of is that the truth will eventually come out. Is Trump really so naive as to think otherwise? (Maybe; after all, he admits now that he thought being president would be easier. Again, I have to ask the question: could a man like Trump, a billionaire, be this naive? Or am I the naive one.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

On the lighter side...

...of things, I'm going to see Robby Krieger, one of only two surviving members of the Doors, tonight at City Winery in the West Loop. (I think that may be where the above interview was conducted.)

At least we still have rock 'n' roll.

I'm discouraged.

I should say, right off the bat, that I'm easily discouraged. I'm a defeatist by nature, a pessimist. So take all of what follows with a grain of salt.*

Remember, about two years ago, how comical it was to think of Donald Trump as a candidate for president of the United States? I recall his announcement; I stopped what I was doing to watch it. And I watched it again later and made my wife watch it as well. What great television! Wouldn't it be something, I thought, if the Donald disrupted the whole Jeb! coronation? This could make Hillary's path to the White House that much easier. I have to confess I was positively giddy at the Republicans' misfortune.

Perhaps the universe is now getting even with me. You know, be careful what you wish for.

Trump ended up winning the GOP nomination (can you believe our good luck?) and, like many others, I wondered on election day just how big Hillary Clinton's margin of victory would be. Would her coattails extend into the House and Senate?

And then, again like many others, it slowly became apparent on election night that not only would the vote be a lot closer than we had thought but that Trump was going to be competitive in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. What?

I went to bed that night pretty much knowing that Trump would win. I couldn't sleep, though, and at about two o'clock in the morning I received a one-word text from my son in California: FUCK. I figured the networks must have officially called it for Trump. Since I couldn't sleep anyway I got up to watch the carnage on TV. I stayed up all night (I normally get up at 4:30) and sleepwalked through the next day.

But then Trump became president in January and proceeded to do just about as poorly as everyone expected. And after the House abandoned its health care bill about a month ago I thought his presidency would end up even worse than Jimmy Carter's.

But . . . then last week the House passed its disastrous bill and now it's moved on to the Senate. And I'm starting to feel nervous, depressed, discouraged. What if these guys really do repeal and replace Obamacare? What if they pass a tax plan similar to the one they've outlined? Could this really be happening? Will Republicans succeed in making life nasty, brutish and short?

No one really thought Trump would run for president, no one thought he could get the Republican nomination, no one thought he could win the presidency, and no one thought he could actually get anything done in Washington. Now it's looking like we may have been wrong on all counts.

But here's where my gloomy mood comes in. I've been reading, like I'm sure you have, that the House's vote on health care will lead to massive Republican losses in 2018.

I'm not so sure about that.

What if we're wrong again? I hate to say it, but Bill Maher may be right: we live in a stupid country. Can't you see Trump's voters losing their health care and voting for Trump again anyway? Either he'll say they haven't lost their health care or their new health care is better than the old or it's the Democrats fault anyway and his voters will buy it.

I've heard lately that Gov. John Kasich may be thinking of challenging Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination. Good luck! Trump will wipe the floor with him just as he did last time. (Same with Bernie Sanders and/or Hillary Clinton, if they decide to run again.) What do people think has changed? As for the Democrats retaking the White House next time, it's awfully difficult to beat an incumbent. If George W. Bush won reelection a con artist like Trump surely can too.

In short, I'm very discouraged right now. I feel like my fellow Americans are letting me down. Letting us all down.

I've always told my son that while my wife is short-term optimistic/long-term pessimistic I'm just the opposite. My wife wakes up every morning with a smile on her face but is convinced she'll end up homeless someday. Me? I wake up mad at the world but have always been confident that it will all have a happy ending. Like my parents and grandparents before me, I expect to die of old age. (My uncle used to joke that he wanted to "live long enough to be a burden" to his children. Not a bad goal.)

But right now I'm not only short-term pessimistic but longer-term pessimistic. I always thought Trump's shtick would get old when his white working class supporters woke up one day and said, "Hey, where's that great job Trump promised me? Why haven't they reopened the GM plant in Janesville? Is this guy a . . .  fraud?"

But now I'm beginning to think Trump's supporters will stay bullshitted.

I'm currently reading a book about Vietnam, The Nightingale's Song, and I'm getting a feel for how people my age must have felt when it became clear that America was going to lose its first war. In 1968, the year of the Tet Offensive, when many Americans began to give up on the war, my dad was 49 years old. A veteran of World War II, I'm sure he felt like everyone else that America just couldn't lose a war. And yet he had to come to grips with the fact that, yes, we could and we would and we did. I don't remember him saying anything about it, but it must have been a loss of innocence for him and other adults at the time. And I feel like I'm experiencing something similar. All my life, I thought America was special and that we would never, ever elect someone like Donald Trump to the "highest office in the land." You know, Leader of the Free World. And now I'm having to deal with this loss of innocence just like an earlier generation did with Vietnam. Turns out we're not so special after all. Just because things went pretty well for over two hundred years doesn't mean our luck can't run out at some point.

For those of you who are still optimistic and members of the "resistance," keep up the good work. One of my readers wants to be a precinct captain in his local Democratic Party. And Jimmy Kimmel may turn out to be the face of universal health care. As for me, I guess I'll just keep on writing.

* I noticed the other day that since beginning this blog back in the fall of 2008 I've had almost half a million pageviews. That's not nothing, but if it was truly successful I'd have that many pageviews in a month. Still, someone must be reading this besides just a few friends and relatives. I don't know if I've come across as optimistic, pessimistic, positive, negative or what, but in any event, thanks for reading.

Monday, May 8, 2017

My posts on President Trump...

...last week were interrupted by my Urban Hike with Mike recap on Thursday and the unemployment report on Friday, which actually required me to do my job.

To review, on Monday I talked about Trump's lack of accomplishments at the 100-day mark, on Tuesday I asked three nagging questions I still have about the 45th president, and on Wednesday I opined on why Trump won and Clinton lost.

Today's post (and I'm still kind of busy with the markets) will be brief. It's about buckets -- three of them to be exact -- and how I would organize Trump's presidency so far into those three buckets.

Bucket No. 1: Russia

We know Vladimir Putin hacked the election with the intention of helping Trump and hurting Clinton -- the Intelligence Community has said so with "high confidence." The question of course is, was there collusion between the campaign and the Russians, and if so how much? My guess -- and it's all a guess at this point -- is that people like Carter Page, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn were all involved to some extent but that Trump was more of a "useful idiot." The problem for Trump, though, is did he get wind of it at some point and participate in a cover-up? I'm assuming we'll get the answers to all of these questions sometime in Trump's first term, but it could take a while.

Bucket No. 2: Trump's business/conflicts of interest

While Bucket No. 1 is disturbing and Bucket No. 3 is scary, Bucket No. 2 is just plain maddening. I won't go into all of Trump's businesses and his conflicts of interest (and his family's conflicts of interest) because it's all so exhausting. I'd like to focus on his tax returns, which I am convinced we will never see. Why? Because he either isn't as rich as he'd like us all to believe, or he doesn't make nearly as much money as he'd like us all to believe, or he doesn't pay as much in taxes as he'd like us all to believe, or he doesn't give as much to charity as he'd like us all to believe, not to mention where exactly he gets his money and to whom he owes money (see: Bucket No. 1).

As for those leaked 2005 returns, I think it was Trump who did the leaking. I mean, come on, two pages? I'll bet that was the last time Trump made any serious money and the last time he paid taxes of any consequence. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that his TV show has been his primary source of income since the crash in 2008.

Mitt Romney was right when he said Donald Trump was a fraud and a faker. Forbes estimated Trump's net worth at $4 billion while the Donald put it at $10 billion. If there's one thing we can be sure of it's that Trump has inflated his number. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he's worth around $8 billion. I'm too lazy to look it up again, but people have done the math: if Trump had simply invested his inheritance in index funds he'd be worth around $13 billion today. So, rather than all the hotels, casinos and golf courses (and steaks, water and "universities"), Trump would have been better off lying on a beach all this time. That, by definition, makes him a "failure" in business, doesn't it?

One last point: true titans of industry endow business schools at prominent universities (for example, Booth at the University of Chicago), they don't start bogus "universities" to cheat people out of their money. No, Romney was right: this guy is a fraud.

Bucket No. 3: Policy/competence

Before last week's passage of the disastrous House health care bill, Trump had very little to show for his efforts after 100 days in office. I went through all of this on Monday, but the bottom line is that the fear that Trump would govern as an authoritarian turned out to be misplaced; the actual danger here is incompetence. While I think Trump will end up making Jimmy Carter look capable in comparison, I worry more about what the president will do in a crisis. (And there is sure to be at least one, probably several.)

I won't even go into all the unfilled appointments and Trump's lack of understanding or even interest in policy. (I said I'd keep this short.)

But that's how I'd organize Trump's presidency so far. And it's not encouraging.

Next: something else that's not encouraging.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Today is the 131st anniversary...

...of the Haymarket Affair so we decided to hike over to the site of the actual riot at Desplaines and Randolph in the West Loop.

It was probably our biggest group ever -- me, Dele, Michael, John, Jack, Tim, Peter, Eric and Alan -- and we left 1212 W. Flournoy at five o'clock.

Our initial destination was the French Market, above, in the Ogilvie Transportation Center.

But first we had to walk through the West Loop to get there. Zigzagging with the traffic lights, we mostly went east down Madison Street, which has become quite the bustling commercial district. Dele, who is fairly new to Chicago, asked me if the neighborhood had changed at all in recent years. "Ha!," I laughed out loud. I then recalled admonishing my niece, who had just moved here herself around the year 2000: "Don't go west of Greektown!" The implication, of course, was that the neighborhood was not safe. (I later had to change that warning to newly-minted college graduates to: "Don't go west of Greektown -- you can't afford it!") Now the area is positively full of yuppies rushing to and from work downtown in between young mothers pushing strollers, worrying over whether or not they can get their kids into Skinner Elementary School someday.

As my father once told me, the Near West Side, including the area around what is now the United Center, "was never nice." A less charitable description might be "Skid Row." I remember back in the '90s a friend from work took me to the Palace Grill, on Madison and Loomis, for breakfast. In those days you would take a cab directly there and directly back; it was not a part of town in which you would loiter. (Who really "loiters" anyway?) Back then the "restaurant" was only a tiny greasy spoon with about eight or ten stools perched at a counter. And I think it was a one-man operation, too: you ordered and later paid the same guy who turned around and prepared your ham and eggs while you watched. The Palace Grill has since expanded and is now a popular spot before Bulls and Blackhawks games. It even has tables and waitresses now. How times have changed!

The French Market is a mile or so from 1212 and we arrived there about half an hour later. It can be a little overwhelming if you've never been; it's kind of like a high-end food court, with over "30 individual specialty vendors," according to its website. The good news, however, is there's something for everyone. I opted for a steak burrito, which was delicious, and a guy sang a pretty fair rendition of Elvis Costello's "Alison" as we ate. I had my back to him, though, and the guys all got a kick out of the fact that I didn't realize the music was live, not piped in over a loudspeaker. (A senior moment?)

After our sumptuous dinner it was time to see the actual site of the Haymarket Square Riot a couple of blocks away.

According to Wikipedia, the Haymarket Affair of 1886:

...began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the previous day by the police. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy. The evidence was that one of the defendants may have built the bomb, but none of those on trial had thrown it. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison. 

The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers. The site of the incident was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992, and a public sculpture was dedicated there in 2004.

The event has particular significance for me as my great-grandfather, John Joseph Duffy, a Chicago cop, was present at the riot.

As an aside, over the years my family has been on both sides of the law. Duffy's son and my great-uncle, "Red" Tom, was a small-time bootlegger who was shot and killed by Al Capone's gang during the height of Prohibition in 1926. "Red" Tom's death was only notable because he was killed with two others, one of whom was Assistant State Prosecutor William McSwiggin. (A public official in Chicago involved in illegal activity? Scandalous!) The three were gunned down by a passing car (the first drive-by shooting?) and many claim that Scarface Al pulled the trigger himself.

Historians have asserted that the real targets may have been William "Klondike" O'Donnell and his brother Myles, who had been encroaching on the Capone gang's beer distribution. (In business school we had a term for that sort of thing: "high barriers to entry.") Klondike and Myles hit the ground, though, and got away from the shooting unscathed.

I prefer this explanation because it allows me to think more highly of my ancestors. (I'm sure "Red" Tom Duffy just "fell in with a bad crowd," as my grandmother used to say.) In any event, from that day forward, with the possible exception of my dad, who once got a ticket for jaywalking -- I kid you not! -- all of my family members have chosen to "go straight"; it has a better risk/reward ratio. (Another b-school term.)

The famous memorial to the Haymarket Square Riot by Chicago artist Mary Brogger was unveiled at the corner of Desplaines and Randolph by then-Mayor Daley and union leaders -- including the president of Chicago's police union -- in 2004. A fifteen-foot bronze sculpture marks the precise location where the speakers' wagon stood and where the historic events occurred.

The monument has been temporarily moved, however, to Union Park about a mile away to make way for construction of a high-rise. So our intrepid band of hikers walked west on Randolph to its current location at Ogden and Warren.

Although Union Park sounds like an appropriate place for a monument to workers, the name was actually chosen in 1853 in reference to the federal union of the United States. The surrounding neighborhood is coincidentally home to many of the city's labor union offices, including the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, the Teamsters and over a dozen others.

After taking a few pictures, and shedding a few hikers, we walked down Ashland and turned left (east) into the Jackson Boulevard Historic District. Built between 1879 and 1893 by various architects, the district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two other points of interest, First Baptist Congregational Church and the Church of the Epiphany, both on Ashland Avenue. The former was designed by architect Gurdon P. Randall and completed in 1871. The second structure, designed by Francis M. Whitehouse in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, was built in 1885. Both churches are on the National Register of Historic Places.)

Flanking Jackson on both sides is Whitney Young, which opened in 1975 as the city's first public magnet high school. Named after a prominent civil rights leader, it's also the alma mater of Michelle Obama.

Peter then hopped on the Blue Line at Racine, Tim found his car on Loomis, Jack and John turned down Flournoy for 1212, and I headed back for home on Lexington.

Next week is the 123rd anniversary of the Pullman Strike (you probably think I'm some sort of labor activist by now), so I was hoping to take the guys down to Big Marsh (the newest Chicago park, not my brother-in-law Ed Marsh), which is actually in South Deering, just east of the Pullman neighborhood. Those are two of the 77 community areas in Chicago we have yet to visit so it should be interesting. We'll probably need to take two cars and leave 1212 at five o'clock sharp. See you then!