Friday, August 31, 2012

What I Heard Last Night


If one of the talking points Mitt Romney has about Barack Obama is that his presidency has disappointed us, I must say the Mittster’s nomination acceptance speech last night at the Republican National Convention did not differentiate him from the incumbent. I was not blown away by his rhetoric, his message or by his delivery. And, for sure, I was not provided an inkling as to how he would achieve his five point goals. Yes, they were lofty. But without specifics, it’s like my saying I would like a body as trim and buff as Paul Ryan’s. Unless I’m specifically willing to devote time to the exercise regimen Ryan endures each morning, it’s just not happening. 

You might already have read analyses about the speech, so I’ll try  to keep my take to a minimum of what I jotted down as Romney was smiling that awkward smile of his as he soaked up the love, if not the respect, of the conventioneers, who, honestly, seemed less enthusiastic than those I’ve seen at other party gatherings. 

First, I couldn’t believe Mitt said, “If you ask Ann and I...” I’m picky about grammar. The correct phrase is, “If you ask Ann and me ...”, “me” being the object of the verb “ask.” “I” cannot be the object of a verb. I suppose Romney might want to reconsider any suggestion to downgrade or eliminate the Department of Education.

Second, Romney said Republicans “united” behind Obama when he assumed office. What distant Bizarro world has he lived in since January 20, 2009? The only union Republicans made was with themselves in their effort to, in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s words, make Obama a one-term president.

Third, Romney soft-pedaled the troubles Obama inherited from George Bush. He barely acknowledged Bush’s legacy—two wars, a failed economy, a rising deficit.

Fourth, he suggested the best feeling Americans had for Obama “was the day you voted for him,” ignoring the euphoria we all felt when we heard Osama bin Laden had been killed, on orders from a Democratic president.

Fifth, saying that Obama’s lack of business experience made him unqualified to be president, especially compared to his business background, Romney ignored the fact that some of our greatest or most important presidents were similarly inexperienced (FDR, JFK, Nixon, Reagan, Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt) or were failures in business (Truman, Lincoln, Jefferson).  

Sixth, Romney criticized Obama’s attacks on his record at Bain Capital, saying the president didn’t understand not every business succeeds. Fair enough. I would expect then, Romney would drop any future references to Solyndra, the solar energy company that received a $500 million federal investment but wound up filing for bankruptcy a year ago tomorrow. As Romney said, not every company succeeds.

Seventh, “As president, I’ll protect the sanctity of life,” Romney said to wild cheering. But what did he mean by that? Would he continue to defend a woman’s right to an abortion in cases of rape, incest or risk to her life? Would he work to outlaw contraception, as his running mate Ryan advocates? Would he support legislation to criminalize women and their doctors for abortions? Would he support legislation to extend rights to the unborn, from the moment of conception? Would he reject embryonic stem cell research? Would he reject federal funding for Planned Parenthood?  

Eighth, Mocking Obama’s promise “to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” Romney said, “My promise is to help you and your family.”  His promise is a good one, but in denigrating Obama’s, he projects his disdain for the realities of climate change and pollution. It is indisputable sea levels are rising, that the world’s air and water are getting dirtier. To ignore the long-term implications is evidence Romney is living in a dream world of the 1950s.

Ninth, Romney resurrected Reagan’s question as to whether we are better off today than four years ago. To someone currently unemployed or in danger of losing their home, the answer is obvious. But let’s look at the trends. Unemployment is slightly higher, 8.3% compared to 7.6% when Obama took the oath of office. But the trendline points down and would be lower if not for the massive layoffs of state and local government workers. Job creation is up. The Dow Jones Industrial Index was 8,281 the morning of January 20, 2009. NASDAQ was 1,529. The S&P 500 was 850. This morning they were, respectively, 13,000; 3,049; and 1,399. Gas prices are almost double what they were, despite the highest level of U.S. oil production. Housing prices seem to be creeping back up, but too many homes remain under water (and I’m not referring to Hurricane Isaac). 

To sum up, economic statistics and trends can support Obama or Romney, which is why so many pundits believe Romney must make himself more likable, and Obama less likable, for the GOP to retake the Oval Office. Which brings up a most interesting question NBC’s Brian Williams asked Tom Brokaw last night—why is it that after six years of running for the presidency, Mitt Romney remains an unknown to much of the electorate? Brokaw didn’t have an answer.

An example of how much of a blank slate Romney is could be observed in the weird Clint Eastwood segment of last night’s convention. Eastwood said he never thought it was a good idea for an attorney to be president, an obvious reference to Obama’s Harvard Law School degree. The crowd laughed and cheered. I guess Eastwood and his live audience didn’t read Romney’s resume—he, too, is a Harvard Law School graduate, class of 1975. 


Chinese Fortune: Jon Huntsman Jr., the former governor or Utah and ex-Ambassador to China, was asked by Stephen Colbert to say in Mandarin what he really thinks of Romney. Here’s a translation: "All right!  Let me put it this way.  I think that two months from now Governor Romney will have a lot of success."

But as Nathan pointed out on http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4158, “Unfortunately for Romney, the election's slightly more than two months away.”


Foreign Language: Finally, here’s another example of dumbness on the airwaves. Stephen A. Smith, an ESPN talk-radio host, said yesterday he would gladly learn Spanish if he knew he would be sent to Brazil to cover the 2016 Summer Olympics. His co-host, producer or anyone else listening in didn’t tell him Spanish would do him little good in Rio de Janeiro as Brazilians speak Portuguese. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What I'd Like to Hear


Not wanting to dim the afterglow of Ellie and Donny’s wedding, I have avoided watching almost all of the Republican National Convention. I expect, however, I will tune in to listen to Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech tonight.

For the Mittster to win the election, pundits have said, he must cut into the advantage Barack Obama has with two key constituencies—women and blacks. Accordingly, they have been pressing the point that an improved economy, which only the Mittster can deliver, would be the best tonic for what ails these two demographics.

So I wonder, under a Romney presidency ...

... would women who could not afford traditional medical care still be able to receive screenings and treatments at Planned Parenthood, or will Republicans cause the clinics to shut down by defunding them?

... would anyone with a pre-condition still be eligible for health care insurance or would Republicans turn the clock back on one of the key provisions of Obamacare?

... would unemployed children still living at home through age 26 be covered by their parents’ health care insurance or will Republicans deny them coverage that was extended under Obamacare?

... would our streets and homes be safer if Republicans ended grants to states to hire policemen and firemen?

... would children and their families in poverty be better off under Republican plans to reduce spending on social welfare programs? Would they be better off if block grants are given to the states which have their own budgetary problems and are looking for ways to cut expenses?

... would a Romney administration fight for women to receive equal pay for equal work as men?

... would they be better off if there were fewer Pell grants for their children’s higher education? 

... would they be better off if there were fewer regulations to protect our food supply, our drug industry, our natural resources and parklands from exploitation and pollution?

... would they be better off if programs supporting the arts and culture were curtailed or sharply reduced?

I suspect the answer to all these questions, and more, would be a resounding “NO.” But let’s give Mitt the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps tonight I will hear him enumerate beyond platitudes and generalities his specific vision for America. Perhaps he will provide specifics about what his administration would cut to achieve a reduction in our national debt. Perhaps he will offer specific solutions to regenerate our industries, to reinvigorate investments in our infrastructure, to expand opportunities for the underemployed, to assist those whose homes have depleted in value.

I suspect we will get more of the same “America’s best days are ahead” from him. More “trust me.” I’d like to trust him, but so far his campaign has lied about things Obama didn’t say or do. Even after the lies have been pointed out to them, Romney and Paul Ryan have continued to lie. 

If he wins and both houses of Congress swing Republican, would he have the backbone to stand up to the extreme wing of his party? I doubt it. He could score a lot of points with me if he would say tonight a woman has the right to an abortion if she is raped, or becomes pregnant through incest, or the pregnancy puts her life in danger. That would take courage. He’s said that in interviews. Now let’s hear him say that before the convention delegates. I doubt he has the courage to do so. Prove me wrong, Mitt.  



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hava Negila—Let Us Rejoice


I wore socks to Ellie and Donny’s wedding Sunday. 

We danced the hora to Jewish and Israeli music, though not to the traditional melody of Hava Negila. By coincidence, after Gilda and I returned home from the wedding weekend at West Point’s Thayer Hotel, I opened an email from my cousin Herb. It contained a 10-minute video on the history of Hava Negila, a tune that has become a mainstay of many a singer’s repertoire and the background music for ice skaters and gymnasts, the most recent being Olympian Aly Raisman’s gold medal floor exercise program. Give a look, as old Jewish men used to say: http://vimeo.com/43425677

Allowing for an understandable amount of parental pride, believe me the bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, the ceremony on an embankment overlooking the Hudson River, under a chupah stitched by Donny’s mother, with vows lovingly authored by Ellie and Donny, was joyous, spectacular and spiritual, the food was delicious, the music romantic and sassy, and the feeling of community, from Donny’s family and friends and from our family and friends, palpable. As Gilda referenced Hillary Clinton in her remarks, it truly takes a village to raise a child. We have been fortunate to have had loving helpers craft the woman Ellie has grown into, and that Donny’s family and friends molded him into the mensch he is. 

Hava Negila means "let us rejoice." The afterglow still warms Gilda’s and my heart.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Brook(s) No Evil


To the list of one-issue voters (e.g., supporters of Israel, pro-choice or anti-abortion champions, environmental advocates), David Brooks of The NY Times wants to add another—Medicare cost containers. He wants you to cast a vote for the candidate who “can slow the explosion of entitlement spending (Medicare) so we can devote more resources toward our future.” He reluctantly, it seemed to me, believes it would be Mitt Romney, unless Barack Obama can come up with a credible alternative plan (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/opinion/brooks-guide-for-the-perplexed.html?_r=1&hp).

I applaud his willingness to cross party lines in the latter case, but regret his narrow-minded argument. Though it’s true spending on Medicare (Medicaid and Social Security, as well) must be contained, Republican budgets with their no-new-taxes foundation fail to balance for at least 10 years, during which time Romney-Ryan and their acolytes will have gutted all investment in our future—investments in education, in infrastructure, in the arts, in parks and recreation, in support for the disadvantaged, in women’s health, in the environment. In short, in everything but the military (perhaps they realize they’ll need a strong armed forces not to defend us from outside attack but from a revolt from within. Just kidding, I hope.)

Simply put, a vote for Romney-Ryan is a vote into the past, a vote to solidify the polarization of our society economically, socially and educationally, though not politically, as that has already been achieved (a rather ignominious, but nevertheless accurate, descriptor). 

Obama is not the perfect candidate, but at least he plausibly addresses our needs for the future. By focusing just on Medicare, Brooks fails to see the dangers lurking in a Romney presidency. He’s like the Naderites who cast an absurd ballot for Ralph Nader in 2000, thereby condemning the country to the tragedy of George W. Bush, whose mess Obama has had to clean up, with no assistance from Bush’s Republican mates. 

The headline of Brooks’ column was “Guide for the Perplexed.” What is perplexing is how a normally astute and reasoned commentator could be so narrow-focused when Medicare is but one challenge facing the country.


Akin for More: Speaking of one challenge, it’s easy to focus on and deplore Todd Akin’s misguided and ill-informed views of rape, women and their reproductive systems. It’s easy to dismiss them as an aberration, not just by Akin but also by any other Republican who shares those ideas. 

The true measure of Akin and the problem or benefit Republicans have being associated with him, depending on one’s political point of view, is his advocacy of other extreme positions including, according to Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post, an end to federal support for the National School Lunch Program, his comparing federal student loans to stage 3 cancer, and his belief that civil rights should be re-litigated. 

Akin is a deeply religious man. That appeals to many Missouri voters. But his reactionary positions on social welfare issues, not just abortion, demonstrate he has very little compassion for his fellow man, woman or child. 


Money Votes: Campaign finance is one of the big stories this election season, what with all the “soft” money going into funds, especially conservative leaning ones, that do not have to disclose their donors. Coupled with Romney out-muscling Obama for the third month in a row in raking in millions of dollars in disclosed campaign contributions, the GOP looks like it is winning the vote among those willing to put their money on the line. 

But for those who missed an intriguing story in Tuesday’s NY Times, here’s a different read of the political winds. Under the headline, “Investors in Health Care Seem to Bet on Incumbent,” the article revealed how companies with a stake in the future of Obamacare have made acquisitions based on their belief the president would be re-elected 







Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What If ...


I don’t normally watch Hardball with Chris Matthews, but the Yankees game hadn’t started yet and I had a few minutes to kill while doing the dishes last night. I tuned in at the end of Hardball, in time to hear Matthews describe what would happen if Romney-Ryan were elected. If you vote for Mitt Romney you get the “March of the Clowns,” said Matthews, enumerating the likes of Bachman, Trump and other extreme politicos who would shape a list of regressive disasters known to most intelligent observers and already delineated by your faithful correspondent back in January. I’ll spare you the details, but here’s a link in case you don’t remember what I wrote: http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2012/01/america-of-our-past-and-future.html.

What prompted Matthews’ outrage Monday was the Todd Akins affair. For anyone not familiar with this ultra-conservative Republican congressman running to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri, he espoused Sunday, before partially recanting, a theory that when a woman is “legitimately” raped, her body “has ways to try to shut the whole thing (meaning, pregnancy) down,” thus negating the need for an abortion. Akins opposes all abortions.

Beyond the repulsiveness of what Akin said about rape and his utter failure to comprehend and empathize with women who are attacked sexually, Akin has performed a public service. He is proof-positive this election is about more than just the economy. Social issues, the right to an abortion being one of them, are very much at stake.

Akin exposed a basic belief among many Republicans, that there be no exceptions for abortions. It’s all part of the Republican war on women that includes shutting down Planned Parenthood, requiring invasive gynecological ultrasounds before legal abortions, and efforts to ban contraception. Though Romney said yesterday he would permit abortions in the case of rape or danger to the health of a mother, in the past he has supported a total ban. It’s another flip-flop, another example of not knowing what we’d get should Romney win. 

What’s more, a draft of the Republican Party platform to be adopted next week calls for a constitutional amendment banning all forms of abortion, according to CNN (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/gop-platform-abortion_n_1815021.html). Will Romney finesse that total ban out of the platform, or simply ignore it during the campaign, much as he has sidestepped specifics about his economic recovery plan and his taxes? 

His presumptive running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, in linked to Akins. As Eugene Robinson pointed out in The Washington Post, “Last year, Akin co-sponsored a bill in the House that would have narrowed the exception that allows Medicaid funds to pay for abortions for women who are raped. The proposed measure would have permitted the use of funds only to end pregnancies resulting from ‘forcible rape.’ Paul Ryan, now Mitt Romney’s running mate, was another co-sponsor of the measure, which ultimately failed.

“The statutory rape of a child by an adult would not fit the definition the House Republicans tried to impose; nor would the rape of a woman who was drugged, say, or who had limited mental capacity. Never mind the fact that, as far as criminal law is concerned, rape is rape. Never mind the fact that all rape, by its very nature, is ‘forcible.’

“Akin’s assertion about ‘legitimate’ rape is really nothing but an attempt to blame the victim. It stems from the view that the only true victim is a woman who is raped while violently resisting a ski-masked assailant who came in through the bedroom window. Anything short of that, she must have been asking for it.”

Robinson also noted, “Akin, by the way, is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.” 

Hey, Chris Matthews—no need to send in the clowns. They’re already here. 









Monday, August 20, 2012

Fat, Fareed, Fear of Fractions, An Honest Face


Dieting Secret: Lost a few more ounces of fat today. Perhaps I should consider writing a how-to diet book. My first bit of advice—start with a high metabolism rate! 


Pit Stop: Fareed Zakaria, the renowned foreign affairs journalist, recently made news himself by violating professional  standards (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/20/business/media/scandal-threatens-fareed-zakarias-image-as-media-star.html?adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1345474868-A8fm9PZAQn2i/+0DuUu7Sg), but I will always link him to an action I never witnessed by any public speaker in four decades of reporting.

About six years ago Zakaria was featured at the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) annual conference. To the Grand Poobahs of retailing he pontificated on the state of the world and America’s standing within it. After a speech of about 40 minutes, the audience expected a question and answer period. But before the first query could be launched, Zakaria requested their indulgence. He asked for a momentary delay. He had to run off-stage to the bathroom. An embarrassed giggle rippled through the audience. Several minutes later he returned to applause, having proven beyond a doubt that those we see on TV and read in print have no fewer human needs than the rest of us.


Fear of Fractions: Some years ago the Securities and Exchange Commission made the stock market shift the share valuation model to dollars and cents from listings based on numbers and fractions. It made it easier for the Average Joe and Jane to figure out what a stock bought and sold for. Of course, most stocks are traded these days by computers for large institutions. No matter. The new system makes it easier to understand when Brian Williams and other talking heads report the day’s activity. 

Now, a new study in the July Journal of Commerce by faculty at the Carlson School of Management, first brought to my attention by The Lempert Report, indicates our collective fear of fractions and our inability to process changes in percentages may be costing consumers money during their trips to retail stores. Faced with two different sales promotions—percentage off or a bonus pack buy—consumers will more frequently choose getting more of a product over paying less for a standard size of a product. This could lead retailers and consumer package goods (CPG) companies to camouflage price increases. 

As Phil Lempert reported, “Retailers and CPG continue to mask everyday price increases with smaller package sizes, fractional ounce content and uneven dollar amounts that shoppers find hard to compute. While everyday prices rise—and they will again due to the Midwest drought and other weather challenges—stores and brands push more promotions to convey value and retain shopper trips. When they price promote, they find that distraction works to their benefit because, frankly, shoppers aren't great at math,” specifically knowing how to calculate percentage changes. 

Bottom line: Before you go supermarket shopping, you might want to brush up on your math skills. 

The antipathy toward percentages might also explain why Mitt Romney has difficulty selling the public on his effective tax rate. Instead of emphasizing his rate, a comparatively low 13.9% vs. a higher rate most middle income households pay, Romney might want to stress his actual tax payment. Sure, it will imply he makes tons of money, but most people already know that. It’s the percentage he pays that is getting him in trouble. 


An Honest Face: I just found out I’m more honest than the average bald man. According to a study by Honest Tea, bearded fellows can be trusted 96% of the time compared to just 85% of bald men. 

This finding comes from one of the more unusual field studies. As noted on its study Web site, “This summer, Honest Tea conducted experiments in 30 cities to test people's honesty. We set up unmanned pop-up stores and asked people to pay $1 per bottle on the honor system. Data was collected and we compiled our findings into the National Honesty Index (http://thenationalhonestyindex.com/).

I’m not really a beachgoer, so it was comforting to know they’re only honest 91% of the time. I’m no longer a biker (pedal powered or motorized), so I was glad to see they didn’t cheat just 92% of the time. But I was troubled that suburbanites and those who wear hats, both categories of which I include myself in, both registered meager 90% honesty rates. And I was particularly depressed to see Brooklyn, the borough of my youth, now home to our daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law, recorded a dismal 61% honesty rating. 



Sunday, August 19, 2012

Countdown to Sunday


The countdown has begun. One week until Ellie’s wedding. I’ve lost about a pound and a half in the last week, though I must admit I didn’t follow the diet I said I would. I ate pasta and other carbs, but no bread. I got my pre-wedding haircut, my suit’s all cleaned and pressed, haven’t decided on the shoes yet, and Ellie still has to hand me her pre-selected tie. I’m not sure who will be more relieved when this is all over, me or the UPS man who seems to be making daily deliveries to our porch. 

Last time one of our children married, wedding attire was more casual. Six years ago, Dan and Allison left it to everyone’s sensibilities how to dress. I seem to recall one of Dan’s friends came in shorts (in his defense, it was 90+ degrees and 90+% humidity). Most people, including yours truly, wore a shirt and slacks. No tie. Anyway, I bring this up because of an article in today’s NY Times Styles section about men wearing shorts, not just to bum around in but also in more formal situations, such as work (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/fashion/mens-shorts-regain-fashion-status.html?ref=style). 

I love wearing shorts, usually cargo shorts with a 7” inseam. But let me state unequivocally, short of being on Bermuda where knee high socks are part of the outfit, there is no way wearing shorts to the office, or a formal wedding, is acceptable, no matter how many designers include them in their runway shows. I have legs people would die for, that is, if you’re a woman. Few men have legs skinnier than mine. They may be acceptably revealed on the ball field, or some other casual venue, but not anywhere formal. 

On the subject of acceptable public displays, another Styles section article commented on celebrity and non-celebrity moms working off their baby fat (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/fashion/in-celebrity-climate-from-bump-to-paunch-pudgy-moms-cant-get-a-break.html?ref=style). 

Way back when Dan was born almost 34 years ago, we had a friend whose doctor advised her she would get pregnant only if she added five pounds to her zero-size frame. Reluctantly, she followed his prescription. She delivered a boy, decided to keep the weight on to conceive again, and after the second delivery crunched her way back to size zero within weeks. She proudly told Gilda she was doing 100 sit-ups within a week of the second baby’s arrival. 

We lost track of that family over the years, though I did run into them in Manhattan several years ago. Though now middle age, she was still sporting that zero figure.


Lest you think all I do is read The Times, here’s an interesting piece from The Washington Post on Janesville, Wis., home to the would-be vice president, Rep. Paul Ryan. Would he be good for his home town? Read and see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/could-paul-ryans-ideas-help-his-struggling-home-town/2012/08/17/5a857dea-e729-11e1-a3d2-2a05679928ef_story.html/?wprss=rss_MobileOpinionsSectionFront&wpmk=MK0000200.

Here’s another Washington Post article on the controversy surrounding President Obama’s comments on who is responsible for building a business: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-i-built--with-government-help/2012/08/17/ecc86b24-e885-11e1-936a-b801f1abab19_story.html.

Monday, August 13, 2012

More Summer Musings


How Did They Know? How did the brain trust at Modern Baking magazine know to send me an online subscription solicitation? I hadn’t baked bread in more than 15 years but had just recently taken up the practice. Two breads down and lo and behold, the subscription solicitation arrives in my email inbox, even before my planned blog on my new pursuit. Big Brother is definitely watching. Maybe Modern Baking has access to my supermarket purchases. The honchos there would have seen my purchases of flour, yeast, non fat dry milk and deduced I was baking up a storm.

I stopped baking bread when I started following the Atkins diet of no or reduced carbohydrates. I didn’t do it to lose weight, but rather to control my triglycerides and cholesterol. They’re much better now, thank you, so I dusted off the Welbilt bread machine and began mixing the ingredients several times a week before going to bed. The smell of fresh cooked whole wheat bread permeating the house is quite stimulating in the morning. 

But it also can be enlarging. Aside from the bread, I haven’t changed my eating habits over the last fortnight, so I’m left with bread as the reason I’ve added a few not-so-well-placed pounds. Less than two weeks till Ellie’s wedding, so I think I might resist making any more bread for a while.


Early Bird Special: Today I might have officially become a retired senior citizen. To lose those few pounds around my waist, I not only unplugged the bread machine but also decided to forego eating carbs. No bread. No cereal. No chips. No rice. No pasta. No potatoes. No pizza. Lots of hunger. 

By 4 pm today I was in deep need of an early bird special dinner. As Gilda had an evening appointment, I was on my own, which meant I could attack the leftover chicken scarpiello at my whim. My whim meant 5 o’clock. After polishing off a double portion (even with some potatoes), I was still hungry, so I ate some almonds and cashews. I’m still hungry. How will I make it to a normal bed time? What’s more, when I go to bed hungry I tend to hallucinate. I’m not optimistic about this diet. I’m not optimistic about really getting older and becoming a devotee of early bird specials. I hope my daughter appreciates the extreme sacrifice I am making for her.


Bird’s Eye View: Driving home last Thursday night from the theater (an enthralling production of Dogfight at Second Stage, highly recommended), I saw a column of scaffolding rising at the end of 8th Avenue. I knew it wasn’t a new Apple store popping up. I assumed good ol’ Christopher Columbus’ statue at his eponymous circle was in need of some pointing or other minor repair. 

I was wrong. As the accompanying article reveals, ordinary citizens will get to see what previously only New York’s pigeons could appreciate—face to face encounters with the Great Navigator (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/13/arts/design/in-columbus-circle-tatzu-nishi-to-build-living-room.html?_r=1). 


Cosmo Girl: Yesterday I finally finished an article from the the week prior’s New York Times Sunday magazine on the international proliferation of Cosmopolitan. Today, news came its signature editor, Helen Gurley Brown, died. 

Here’s one incomparable line from her obituary on The Times Web site: “She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger.”  (To read the rest of the obit click this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/business/media/helen-gurley-brown-who-gave-cosmopolitan-its-purr-is-dead-at-90.html?pagewanted=1&ref=arts)  


Youthful Enthusiasm: In Paul Ryan’s introductory remarks with Mitt Romney Sunday aboard the USS Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential hopeful delivered some good and bad news. He started with the bad news—Barack Obama was still president. Then he went on to say the good news was “on November 6 he won’t be any longer.” 

Maybe it was the excitement of the moment, but for the record, regardless of who wins the November election, Obama’s first term as president of the United States will not end until around noon on January 20, 2013.  


Softball Update: I’m a bad student of the game. I haven’t learned my lesson—when pitching, don’t let the other team hit the ball directly at your fielders!

We lost again yesterday, another blowout, 11-1, to a team that began the day with the same 3-10 record. Thirteen errors in the first six innings of a seven inning game. I think they had six legitimate hits. I don’t like losing, but I really hate giving a game away. I’m also embarrassed to say I lost my cool after the fourth or fifth error in the second inning. I apologized to the player I criticized, but the damage was done. They’re trying, but from my vantage, they’re really trying my fortitude. 


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bravo, Mitt, But the Tail Now Wags the Dog


Let’s give Mitt Romney some deserved high-fives. On several levels, his selection of Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate showed some strategic maneuvering and has altered the presidential campaign.

First, by announcing Saturday morning, Romney avoided a hammering in many “liberal newspaper” Sunday Op-Ed sections. The New York Times, for example, contained no commentary, not even an editorial, on the choice of Ryan in its Sunday Review section. But for a stinging rebuke of Romney’s tax plan, and Ryan’s pre-selection budget plan, read David Firestone’s analysis: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/opinion/sunday/romneys-tax-plan-defies-the-rules-of-math.html?_r=1&ref=opinion 

Like Romney, Ryan is a numbers man. There’s little empathy Joe Six-Pack will be able to take away from either man. They supposedly are economic policy wonks, but there’s little little agreement they understand the anguish their plans would have on Americans who earn less than $200,000 a year. Moreover, media reports paint Ryan as a no compromise kind of guy, hardly the type Romney can say will help him instill a new working atmosphere in Congress. 

Romney-Ryan are the closest thing to “buddies on the campaign trail” since Clinton-Gore.  

I wonder, in vetting Ryan, how many years of tax returns did Romney’s team peruse? According to The Times the other day, when he was under veep consideration in 2008, Romney provided 23 years’ worth of returns to John McCain. I wonder, when running for Congress, how many years of tax returns has Ryan made available to the public? Will Romney now feel pressure to unseal more tax filings (keep in mind, he has yet to submit his full 2011 return).

Until now, Romney has chosen to run a “trust me” candidacy. Trust me I’ll be better than Obama. Trust me I’ll reduce the deficit. Trust me I’ll lower taxes without increasing the deficit. Trust me I’ll spend more on the military. Trust me I’ll improve the economy. Trust me health care will be reformed, just not under Obamacare. Trust me. Trust me. Trust me. Just don’t ask for details on how all this will be done, what programs would be cut to balance the budget.  

By selecting Ryan, Romney has put some meat on his bare-boned promises. Ryan’s budget has specifics, though not everything spelled out. Basically, by choosing Ryan, the tail now wags the Romney dog. Romney will have little leeway in being seen as a strict advocate of Ryan’s plan to cut support programs for the underclass and middle class, change Medicare, reduce education grants and food stamps. Romney has officially embraced class warfare, for as he’s stripping support programs away he is advocating lower taxes for the rich.

The net effect—the debate no longer is on Obama’s stewardship of the economy. The debate has shifted to the budget and how Romney-Ryan’s plan will disproportionally hurt minorities, blacks, Hispanics, the middle class, the working class, seniors, students, and anyone else who doesn’t earn at least $200,000 a year ($250,000 for married joint filers). Now both sides have vulnerabilities.

The net net effect is that conservatives will be energized to support Romney (something they already have done in their antipathy toward Obama). But at the same time Ryan’s nomination will energize progressives and independents who now have a darker blueprint of what a Romney victory would mean. If they were holding back from Obama before, hoping Romney would revert to his Massachusetts ways, they now have been disabused of that possibility. 

On a personal note, I’m happy Romney chose Ryan. I can say I almost met him. Our paths crossed during my trip last May to the Capitol with a group of Israeli trauma care providers brought to the States by Shalom Yisrael. The tall, lanky Ryan, with his widow’s beak hairdo reminiscent of Eddie Munster, walked right past our group. I reacted too slowly to stop him to introduce the group. Probably for the better. I might have expressed myself in a less than respectful manner. 
  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Musings


There Goes the Sun: I am green with envy at those able to harness the sun’s power. I learned yesterday my plans to install solar energy panels on the south side of our roof would not be economically feasible as my neighbor’s evergreen trees block too much of the sun, especially during the late fall, winter and early spring months. 

I tried all sorts of different configurations, including panels on the side of the garage facing east, but different trees got in the way. Well, at least I tried to reduce our carbon footprint ...


Out of the Woods: Did you hear about the golfer at Maple Moor Golf Course in White Plains who tackled a suspect fleeing from police the other day? The Good Samaritan golfer saw the suspect running away through a wooded area (http://www.lohud.com/article/20120808/NEWS/308080037/Golfer-tackles-fleeing-drug-suspect-Maple-Moor-course-?odyssey=nav%257Chead&nclick_check=1).

When I picked up driver and putter lo some 30-odd years ago, I played Maple Moor. Had a bad guy rambled through the woods back then I would have been in perfect position to tackle him, or at least take an errant swing at him, as I was most often in the woods because of my frequent errant swings from the tee or fairway. 

We played in a threesome back then, three new fathers—Dave, Rudy and yours truly—seeking diversion on Friday afternoons while our wives cared for our young’uns. We weren’t good golfers. Not even decent duffers. The only time our balls did not wind up in the woods was when the hole we were playing had a water hazard. You can guess where our balls landed when playing those holes. 

Anyway, Dave and I would emerge from the brambles pledging scores of eight or nine. Rudy would own up to a four, five at most. After a few rounds (golf, not drinks, though we did more than a little of that, as well), Dave and I concluded it was no fun playing with Rudy if he wasn't going to count every stroke. 


Easy Rider: Once again The New York Times has printed a story on adults learning to ride a bicycle. Here’s today’s article http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/11/nyregion/a-reporter-learns-to-ride-a-bicycle-as-an-adult.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 but if you want my version of late-in-life daredevil learning and exploits on two wheels, here’s a link to what I wrote in June 2011: http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2011/06/paddling-along.html


Reality TV: Have you noticed reality is starting to look a lot like TV? I mean, when did FBI and other law enforcement spokeswomen start looking like they came direct from Central Casting? 

Regrettably, over the last few weeks we’ve seen lots of TV coverage of mass shootings. I don’t intend any disrespect, but some of the public spokespeople put forward by the police and FBI have been downright good looking, like they belong on CSI or Criminal Minds.  


Perfect Match? As I’m washing up and dressing each morning I listen to the news on WCBS880, the all-news station. I’ve always assumed the station’s audience has above average education levels, and probably above average incomes. 

Which makes me wonder, why do they carry so many ads for male menopause/testosterone fixes, debt relief schemes and other “fly-by-night” remedies for everything from hair loss to car dealerships where “nothing down” lets you drive away in the vehicle of your dreams? It just seems odd that an upscale audience like the one I envision for WCBS880 would be a match for their advertisers. 

The advertisers must be reaping benefit or they wouldn’t be airing the spots so often and for so long. But you’d think that a well-informed audience would know better than to respond favorably to a pitch that promises the sexual performance of a teenager. As H.L. Mencken said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."






Thursday, August 9, 2012

To Russia With Love


When my generation was young and more radical, a common retort by the powers-that-be (or should that be, “powers-that-were”?) was, “If you don’t like it here, move to Russia.” 

Now, it would appear, Russia might be the preferred locale for those “job creators” who don’t want their high incomes taxed too highly. According to KPMG, cited in Wednesday’s NY Times, at 13% Russia has the lowest top individual income tax rate among nine industrialized countries. Here’s how the top rates stack up: Sweden, 57%; Japan, 50%; Britain, 45%; Germany, 45%; Italy, 43%; France, 41%, soon to be 44% with the possibility of it going as high as 75% if new president Fran├žois Hollande has his way; United States, 35%; Canada, 29%; Russia, 13%. 

The Times article painted a dire portrait of Frenchies scurrying to relocate to more tax-friendly countries, such as Belgium, as Hollande’s scheme to get them to pay more gathers momentum (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/business/global/frances-les-riches-vow-to-leave-if-75-tax-rate-is-passed.html?pagewanted=all). 

All of which begs the question, if the lower Bush tax rates on high incomes are allowed to expire at the end of the year, would our wealthy elite abandon the good ole’ USA to live, say, in Moscow or Vladivostok, in case they want a view of Sarah Palin’s home? Maybe not, given recent reports about Russian capitalists choosing to leave (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/04/world/europe/ex-kgb-banker-and-putin-critic-plans-to-sell-assets.html). They might find criticizing their new country’s leader, as they have been wont to do toward Barack Obama, slightly more problematic on many a foreign soil.

Of course, money, keeping your money, does talk. Here’s how two French business people explained the tax issue to The Times:

“‘People have an acceptable amount of taxes they are willing to pay,’ said Mr. (Steve) Horton, the (Parisian) accountant, ‘and if it goes above that, they will move somewhere that’s more reasonable.’” 

“‘The thing French politicians don’t seem to understand or care about is that when you tax away two-thirds of someone’s earnings to appeal to voters, productive people who can enrich businesses and the economy won’t come — or they will just leave,’ said Diane Segalen, a corporate headhunter.” 

Maybe. After all, during the Eisenhower years when our economy blossomed, the highest personal tax rate was 91%. I don’t seem to recall many corporate titans abandoning America back then. Nor did they flee America during the Clinton years when the top tax rate was 39%. 


Political Analogies: I never liked SAT tests or other exams that asked you to figure out what two sets of data had in common. But I am intrigued by this grouping: Birth Certificate is to Obama as Tax Return is to Romney.

Republicans are finding the shoe on their foot is no less tight than it was on Obama’s during the inane birther controversy that should have been resolved when Hawaii released copies of the president’s birth certificate. Obama is legally qualified to be our chief executive. Mitt Romney can stonewall all he wants about his tax returns for the last decade, but sooner or later he will have to give in and do what Obama did with his birth certificate—make it available to the public. 

For those defending Romney’s right to privacy, why is it that cabinet secretaries and other officials confirmed by the Senate must divulge more tax information than he is willing to? Romney is running for our country’s highest office. If he has nothing to hide, let’s get on with it and show the goods. If he does have something to hide, he should be reminded of the first rule of any political transgression: it’s not the foul that gets you in trouble, it’s the cover-up.

One interesting footnote to this dust-up between Romney and Sen. Harry Reid (who claims Romney paid no taxes for 10 years) is that both of them are Mormons. I wonder what the elders of the church think about all this brotherly “love”?





Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Empire Built on Nickels and Dimes


Ever been inside the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway in lower Manhattan? During my early days reporting on the retail industry, I went there often to meet with executives of what at the time was one of the most diversified international retailers, though not one of the most successful. Today, all that remains of that empire are memories, folklore and just one enterprise, Foot Locker.

Today’s nostalgia is prompted by reports the top 30 floors of the 57-story, Cass Gilbert-designed landmark building have been bought, to be turned into high-priced condominiums (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/realestate/top-floors-of-woolworth-building-to-be-remade-as-luxury-apartments.html?_r=1&hpw). How ironic these multi-million dollar residences will sit atop a building paid for from the proceeds of a nickel and dime store chain. Frank W. Woolworth paid for his edifice in cash, $13.5 million, what today would be the equivalent of nearly $300 million. 

The neo-Gothic structure, tallest in the world when it opened in 1913, was never meant to be solely the province of the Woolworth Corporation. Its headquarters staff used just a few of the floors, 44, 45 and 46, as I faintly recall. Some of its divisions, including Kinney Shoe Corp. from which Foot Locker sprang, had offices elsewhere in Manhattan. 

I first entered the Woolworth Building in late 1978, as part of research for a January 1979 feature on the company’s 100th anniversary. The building was nicknamed the “cathedral of commerce” the day it opened. Like the Gothic churches of Europe, the lobby’s vaulted ceilings, mosaics and stained glass made one feel insignificant. See for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WTM3_PAT_M_IN_NYC_0021.jpg 

It inspired awe. And wonder, not the wonder of reverence, but rather the wonder of consternation. How could any company that produced such magnificence sink to a level of mediocrity and even insignificance? How could its executives fail to recognize changes within the retail industry? 

To be sure, the variety-store oriented Woolworth brain trust had diversified, investing in discount stores (Woolco), specialty stores (Susie’s Casuals, Anderson-Little, Richman Bros., Kinney), off-price stores (*J. Brannam), and international divisions (Canada, Mexico, Germany, Spain, Great Britain). Without going into an exhaustive explanation of what went wrong with each, the short story is they all underachieved. They were either closed down or sold off, save Foot Locker. (After shuttering the variety stores, Woolworth changed its name to Venator Group, then Foot Locker.)

Here’s one example that encapsulates the mentality of what went wrong. As they had for decades during the heyday of the five and dime store era, everyone took their 30-minute lunch break at 12 noon sharp. Executives and secretaries. It was impossible to reach anyone there by phone during that half hour. Nor was it possible to reach anyone after 4:30 pm., even if you were calling from the West Coast. They all went home. 

Modern day retailing needs found no home at 233 Broadway. No doubt, the new homeowners atop the Woolworth tower can expect to have all their modern day housing needs fulfilled. 



Monday, August 6, 2012

Vertically Challenged and Red Ink


When you’re almost a foot taller than your wife, standing straight has its challenges. Unlike Fred and Ginger, we don’t dance cheek to cheek, even when Gilda wears heels. Where to hang pictures on the wall is a quandary. Her eye level is way below mine. Gilda raises the bathroom shade a mere 22”. I prefer a more comfortable 33”, so that I don’t have to bend over like a hunchback to peer outside.

My father used to tell his children to stand up straight and walk with shoulders thrust back so we wouldn’t bend over. I think he was reacting to the many hunched over men and women he saw in his youth in Poland. He didn’t want us to turn into hunchbacks. Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews have a tendency to suffer from scoliosis, a condition Gilda sees quite often among Hasidic patients who come to the spine surgery practice where she works. It’s a curable condition if caught early enough. 

I’m not really in danger of becoming a latter day Quasimodo, but I do sometimes envy those couples who are more vertically compatible.


Speaking of my father, I thought of him the other week when New York University received City Council approval to expand its Greenwich Village campus despite opposition from community groups and even members of its own faculty who feared the project would alter the character of the neighborhood. According to an article in The NY Times, “University officials argued that if they could not build on that parcel, they would have to continue buying up, tearing down or converting buildings, which would further damage the neighborhood’s character and infuriate residents.”

From the 1950s through the early 1980s, my father operated a lingerie factory on Broadway, shifting its location whenever his lease would expire, from 718 Broadway near 8th Street down to 692 Broadway (the old Tower Records building) to 683 Broadway to 611 Broadway at Houston Street (where Crate & Barrel now occupies the ground floor). NYU was the landlord for several of those buildings. Back then they converted many of the buildings in the area to loft apartments or office space. Doing so effectively put out of business many of the small lingerie manufacturers who for decades operated in the area. 

When it was 611 Broadway’s turn to be converted, my father organized a march on city hall. All the rally did was get him a few seconds on the local news, Channel 7, I believe. He moved his factory to Brooklyn, into the Howard Bros. building just south of the Manhattan Bridge. By then, in the mid-1980s, the lingerie business was not strong, nor was the polo shirt business he has transitioned into. He was losing about $1,000 a month. In his mid-70s, he couldn’t abide the thought of losing money. My brother and I counseled against closing the factory. It was, we told him, better therapy than seeing a shrink. It kept him active and out of the house, meaning, not in our mother’s hair 24 hours a day. As she used to say, she married him for breakfast and dinner, not for lunch. They had worked together for some 30 years, he in charge of the factory operations, she in charge of the office. When he ventured into her sanctuary, decibel levels invariably rose. Now in retirement, she had no desire to have him poking around her domestic domain all day. 

Despite our best efforts, he chose to close his business. All he could see was red ink. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Call for Real Answers


As a former reporter and editor I retain a healthy skepticism for what politicians say. “Spin doctor” is a kind description of what most of them do. But my patience was truly lost this morning as I listened to NPR interview Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also happens to be the chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, and a short while latter heard two Democrats and two Republicans square off on CBS Face The Nation about the presidential election.

Asked directly why President Obama was not polling higher among married women and white women, Schultz responded with standard talking points about why he is good for women and why he should be re-elected. Challenged that she didn’t answer the question, the congresswoman insisted she did. The interview ended on that note, either because NPR determined its audience was being buffaloed or the segment ran out of time. I hope it was the former, as the media must start showing some muscle in its dealings with politicians. If they won’t answer the question, cut them off and don’t give them a free ride to poison the air with their obfuscations.

Which, unfortunately, is what happened on Face the Nation. The Republicans accused Obama of turning negative. Hello? What do they think happened the first three years of his presidency? Does the word “birther” kindle any memories? Does the voice of a GOP congressman screaming out “You lie” during the State of the Union address revive any memories? Have they forgotten how they refused to compromise, how they thwarted any attempt to gain a balanced approach to our nation’s fiscal problems, which, they have conveniently forgotten, are mainly due to George Bush’s two wars and his senior citizen prescription medical reimbursement plan. 

We have 93 more days before the election. Three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. All in October. Maybe, if we’re lucky, the format will exact specific answers from each candidate. Maybe, again if we’re lucky, the moderator will show some respect for the American people and demand specific answers rather than platitudes, innuendos and gibberish. Oh, we should be so lucky. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chicagoland Express


Spent the last two days in Chicagoland at a retail industry conference in a hotel near O’Hare Airport. During my heyday travel years, I’d fly in and out of O’Hare six times or more a year. I enjoyed Chicago’s controlled bustle. It always seemed more manageable than New York, though the ride between the airport and downtown was never predictable. No matter what time of day you were just as likely to swiftly and bumpily speed down the John F. Kennedy Expressway as you were to crawl along because of congestion or road work. A cabbie once told me Chicago had two seasons—winter and construction.

I didn’t have to contend with the latter this trip. But I did get caught on my way home by the bane of most summer travelers—delays from late afternoon thunderstorms. Chicago was crystal clear, but somewhere down the line storms had disrupted service so that our outgoing plane to La Guardia had not even landed at O’Hare by our scheduled departure time. Instead of returning to New York around 9:30 pm, my best prediction was closer to midnight, if I was lucky. This part of business travel I surely have not missed since my retirement from magazine publishing.

I also haven’t missed the temptation of conference dessert platters. The petits fours seem so delectable. They’re hard to resist, even for someone who has to watch his sugar intake. But they’re soooo appealing. From past experience I know looks are deceiving, yet I wonder if this is the hotel pastry chef who finally understands cardboard is not an essential ingredient of a Napoleon. So I sample a few morsels, secure in the thought none of my fellow conference attendees will squeal to Gilda about my indiscretion. By the time she reads this blog, I’ll have gone back on the dessert wagon and assumed full deniability mode.


Postscript: I was wrong. I did wind up getting screwed by congestion. Seems when I wrote this blog sitting in the Chicago airport around 7 pm, my fellow passengers and I were under the impression the thunderstorms we saw on the weather maps and reports on our smartphones caused the delay. Not so, it turns out. I was enlightened to the real reason as I deplaned around 11:30 pm at La Guardia. When I asked one of the pilots where the thunderstorms were that delayed us, she blithely related the airline always intended us to arrive two hours late, even if our plane had been waiting at O’Hare on time. Air traffic flow, or more precisely, too much air traffic into and out of La Guardia, made a late arrival in New York standard operating procedure. So much for truth in scheduling! Congestion! Argh!!!!

Postscript 2: Slight correction to my Wednesday post on Target, Chick-fil-A and same-sex marriage. The Matt Bai article from the Sunday NY Times magazine appeared July 22. I had written July 17 because when I looked it up on The Times Web site, the article carried a dateline of July 17, when it was first posted to the Internet. I never bothered to check what day of the week July 17 fell on. Another example of how it’s hard to trust anything you read these days and fact-checking is a lost art. 



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A and Other Food for Thought


Lots of news and views to review from the last week or so ...

So liberal-minded cities and universities have rallied against Chick-fil-A because its president voiced religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Not a position I would endorse but probably not one solely held by Dan T. Cathy, son of the founder, S. Truett Cathy, a deeply religious man whose beliefs are underscored by keeping all 1,600 of his restaurants closed on Sundays.

The liberal elite wants to make an example of Chick-fil-A, denying it permission to open new units or by revoking existing permits. I wonder, though, would these same liberals denounce one of their store favorites if they knew it harbored similar anti-gay biases? As Matt Bai reported in the July 22 NY Times Sunday magazine, Target in 2010 contributed $150,000 to a Minnesota group backing a conservative candidate opposing gay marriage. 


During Sunday night’s telecast of the NY Yankees-Boston Red Sox game, the camera lingered on Paul Simon in the box seats at Yankee Stadium. Yes, he’s worth pointing out to the audience. But what about the mustachioed gentleman sitting to his left? He probably wields as much influence, if not more, than Simon, though not as an entertainer. He does it with the weight of his ideas, the scope of his vision, the power of his reasoning. That man was Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The NY Times. Sadly, neither the broadcasters on ESPN nor the people in the control booth had any idea who he was.


Sticking with foreign affairs, Mitt Romney continued his gaffe-prone world tour, this time praising Poland’s vibrant economy while ignoring its 12% unemployment rate (50% higher than U.S. jobless rate), and lauding Solidarity for its part in overturning Communist rule. Solidarity, however, reacted coolly to Romney’s visit because of his anti-union positions in America. Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, on the other hand, who invited Romney to Poland, praised him.


On a topic that can be classified as “nothing new here,” an article suggesting Barack Obama’s mother might have had African ancestry has caused quite a stir, with conservative commentators suggesting it’s merely a ploy to make the president’s life story appear more appealing while liberals are fascinated by the possibility. 

Regardless of its veracity, the research by Ancestry.com demonstrated that just as happens today, in the distant past blacks received unequal, more severe punishment for identical crimes committed by whites. According to Ancestry.com, a geneology company based in Provo, Utah, an African indentured servant named John Punch escaped from Virginia in 1640. After his capture in Maryland along with two white escapees, Punch received a life sentence of servitude, a punishment “harsher than what the white servants received,” The Times reported. The two white men received just four additional years of servitude.