Monday, September 4, 2017

Goodbye N.F.L.

Immediately after graduation from college, I signed on to become an assistant football coach at DeLaSalle High School in Bridgeport in Chicago.  Nestled in the shadow of old Comiskey Park, the alma mater of the Daley clan and many other city power brokers and city workers, the school is, and was, a mixture of kids – in addition to the base of Bridgeport students, it had tough Irish kids from Canaryville, middle class white kids from the Southwest suburbs, African-American kids from the adjacent neighborhood and nearby housing projects, Hispanic kids from Little Village and Brighton Park, and some Asian kids from Chinatown.   We had a pretty good team, and had only two losses, one of which was to local powerhouse, St. Rita.

Our team was an ethnic and racial crayon box.  Our secondary had one of everything.  I had one Irish player, one Asian, one Hispanic and one African American kid.   I nicknamed that unit the “Rainbow Coalition,” a nickname that they reveled in.  They were all very coachable, communicated well with each other and took great pride in being one of the best units in the Catholic League.  One day, my little African American cornerback came to the practice field sporting  a headband and wristbands in yellow, black and red colors.  Curtis was an enthusiastic, bouncy kid, with an ear to ear smile that always lit you up.  “What’s with the colors, Curtis?” I asked.  “It’s African pride, Coach.  I have African pride.”  “Well, you should have pride in your heritage, Curtis.  I have pride in mine, too.  But on this field we are all blue and gold.  That’s the rules.  We all wear blue and gold.”  Curtis harumphed a bit, took them off and put them back in his locker.  We went on to a 7-2 season and almost all those kids went on to have a nice varsity career, and many went on to play in college.  While it may have seen a bit rigid to make Curtis put away his African colored apparel, I wanted to make a small, but important point- that whatever tribe you come from, that membership was now subordinate to membership in OUR tribe.

Much has been said and written about Colin Kaepernick’s protests in the N.F.L. and the protests of some of the other players following suit.   I needn’t repeat them here, but I will offer my own reasons for turning off the N.F.L. for now.

Having played football, coached and followed the NFL for nearly 50 years, I always saw football as a great unifier.  No matter what walk of life you came from, no matter what your socioeconomic background, race or religion, if you could run, block, tackle, throw or catch, there was a place for you in this game.  You didn’t need special training or facilities.  Unlike baseball, tennis, golf or skating, football does not require private coaching or expensive equipment to reach an elite level. Football also creates a bond and a brotherhood like no other sport.  Perhaps the most illustrative presentation of this was given by Bill Curry and I urge you to watch his talk “The Huddle” on YouTube (  Unlike baseball, there was no negro league for football.  Yes, it took awhile for the N.F.L. to warm up to black quarterbacks and there as still not enough black head coaches in football, but football was generally at the forefront of civil rights.  Men like Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh led the league in promoting racial equality.   Unlike baseball and hockey, you have to have at least some college to play professional football and many African American men leveraged their degrees and their playing experience to become extremely successful in careers outside football.  For instance, Alan Page became a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court and Willie Davis received an MBA from the University of Chicago and became a very wealthy business owner in California. 

Football gives us an opportunity to set aside our differences, blot out our problems and for a few hours focus on the contest.  Its pageantry, drama and emotionality lend itself to patriotism.  Who could forget Whitney Houston’s emotional rendition of the national anthem during the Gulf War in 1991?   During the frightening financial crisis in the fall of 2008, when it seemed that the United States was headed for a second Great Depression, football gave us all relief and a distraction from the extreme anxiety for at least a few hours on Sunday.   In my view, football serves to erase social frictions and diverts us from our day-to-day stresses.  That is part of what we are buying when we buy a ticket or watch a game on TV.

But Mr. Kaepernick wants to drag all that back in.  If Mr. Kaepernick and his malcontented colleagues wish to do that, it is their right, but they have thrown cold water on the very reason I (and many like me) watch N.F.L. games.

In addition to ruining a primary reason for watching the game, Kaepernick and his supporters have also shown disrespect for the country as a whole and police officers in particular.  While there are racist cops, to be sure, the vast majority put themselves on the line every day to protect minorities.  By wearing pig socks, Kaepernick is engaged in exactly the kind of behavior he purportedly objects to--- that is disrespecting ALL members of a single group.   And of course, the irony is not lost on NFL fans that police officers show up to games to protect Kaepernick, whose salary is many times theirs. 

In addition to disrespecting existing police officers, Kaepernick’s behavior raises my ire another level by dishonoring the memory of my father.  My father joined the Chicago Police Department in 1958, at a time when African Americans were beginning to join the force in large numbers.  There was quite a bit of friction at the time, but my father willingly took on black partners, befriended them, and had them over to our home.  Other white cops were mean to them, and my father was revulsed by some of the things that other white cops said and did in those early years and he would have none of that.   Like many cops today, my father also put himself on the line to protect blacks.  He was a compassionate man and always treated people fairly and justly.   The pig socks Kaepernick wears disrespects his memory and lumps him with the bad eggs Kaepernick has a beef about.

Kaepernick hasn’t landed a roster spot yet this year.  Many argue that his ratings warrant a job in the N.F.L.  But a quarterback’s job is so much more than ringing up stats.  It is to build a diverse group into a cohesive unit.  Kaepernick by his actions, almost guaranteed to be divisive.  Further, since a large proportion of N.F.L. fans are patriotic people, we have already seen demonstrated evidence that his antics have diminished interest in football.  It’s hard to get a job when you are doing things that have a quantifiable negative impact on the cash flow of your employer.  Kaepernick is to the N.F.L.’s brand what salmonella is to Chipotle’s.  

The N.F.L. is complicit in all this.  The league has rules about everything from touchdown celebrations to minute rules about uniforms.  But it has not taken a stand on the show of disrespect for the flag and the national anthem.   

College students now demand “safe spaces” and football has always been one of mine.  Football is a game that is meant to bring us together.  Kaepernick and others are now trying to use it to tear us apart, and I won’t participate in that if that becomes part of the N.F.L.  You guys sit out the national anthem and I will sit out the N.F.L.  There is plenty of good college and high school football to watch.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Personal Observations

One of the advantages of getting older is perspective.  You can see things evolve on a timeline.   You presumably get better at managing your business and personal relationships because you have seen it before.  You don’t get thrown as often.   And you see things grow and change over time—both good and bad.  

But some things are unprecedented.   I am old enough to remember some of the social turmoil of the 60’s—the race riots after Martin Luther King was assassinated, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the Vietnam War protests, the Kent State massacre and the 1968 Democratic convention.  The unrest felt scary at times, but I was a young boy.   The unrest today appears to have a decidedly different bend.  The protests of the 60’s were aimed largely at American policies.  The unrest today in many cases is aimed at America and American heritage itself.   Those on the right blame it on the left’s penchant for practicing identity politics. Those on the left blame it on various forces—class, gender, race, exclusion and all that.

But I believe the friction this time has a more fundamental basis.  Over a year ago, my old friend and economist Carl Tannenbaum asked me why I thought a person like Donald Trump had risen to contend for the Republican nomination at this particular time.  I responded with the Bill Clinton explanation, “It’s the economy, stupid.” (and no, I didn’t mean it to be a jab at him).  It is the underlying economic discomfort and despair of a slow growth economy coupled with technological displacement.  And it is being felt mostly in the heartland.  And while Mr. Tannenbaum undoubtedly has access to much more data than I can produce, and is more adept at interpreting it, I offer only my personal observations to suggest that this is true.  America is reputed to be the Land of Opportunity, of innovation and advancement, of continuous improvement and betterment, where each generation can move farther ahead than the preceding one.   And indeed, in the course of my lifetime, I have witnessed great achievements--- man’s landing on the moon in 1969 and the stunning defeat of the world’s third largest army in 100 days in 1991, for instance.  Technological achievements have lengthened life spans, sped up communications, and brought cheaper and a wider variety of food to the tables of Americans.  America is now nearly energy independent or nearly so.

But the places of my childhood present a sobering picture and, I think, are representative of what is going on in the wider heartland.   I had a somewhat bifurcated youth, going to school in an inner city ethnic community in Chicago, but spent my summers in rural Wisconsin.  While time can often distort memories, there are objective observations that tell us that both communities have worsened considerably over 50 years.

My neighborhood in the city was never very wealthy.  Nestled between Bridgeport and Marquette Park, Brighton Park was a blue collar enclave, comprised of mostly Polish, Lithuanian and, later, more Mexican immigrants.  Policemen, firemen, city workers, skilled labor and some unskilled labor made up the bulk of the population.  There were many small manufacturing companies and some larger employers like Nabisco and William J. Wrigley.  The crime rate was relatively low and parks were crowded in the summer with industrial 16 inch softball leagues, and kids jammed the pools on hot summer nights.  In the early 80’s, the Chicago Tribune ran a nice article about how well the Eastern European and Mexican populations got on together.  There was some poverty, but it was generally well-hidden.

Fast forward to today.   Many of the large industrial employers are gone.  A recent documentary film that featured the girls’ soccer team at my old high school (In the Game) spoke of an 80% poverty rate.  Burned out or abandoned houses are not uncommon.  The Catholic grade school associated with my old parish is long closed.  Brighton Park is now  a veritable shooting gallery.  Mothers are afraid to let their children go out and play. Gang killings are a weekly occurrence.   Most notoriously, 10 people were shot last spring at a vigil for others that had been shot.  The level of deterioration of the community is breathtaking.  It went from modest working class to Lord of the Flies in a generation.
But small town Wisconsin too, has slipped, although not as dramatically.   I recently visited and noticed that the little town and surrounding area had noticeably changed from the place I spent my summers.  The landscape, once dotted with old German and Swedish dairy farmers still has some farms but they are much less numerous.   I had a hard time even finding a produce stand.  Many of the homes seem overgrown and unkempt although there are some larger, newer homes that I suspect are inhabited by retirees from Milwaukee or Chicago.   The general store in the little town is now an animal shelter.   The gas station is now a used car lot, filled mostly with clunkers.  The local tavern doesn’t sell food or beer tap anymore, and is dark and musty.  The little decorative stone waterfall and pool in the middle of town doesn’t flow anymore and the pool is fetid and full of algae.  These are all signs of economic deterioration as the once sprightly farming and resort community lost many of farms, breweries, and cheese factories that supported these local businesses.  While not as dramatic as the decline of inner city Chicago, the ebbing is still palpable.

I can’t help but think there are many, many communities across the Midwest that are in visibly worse condition than they were 30, 40  or 50 years ago.   The signs of decline are everywhere.   And I posit that the social and racial discord that we are experiencing today are not rooted as much in animus as in the economic decline that people know and sense.  The photo above is what remains of what was a beautifully maintained red and white farmhouse that was landscaped with flower beds and inhabited by a German family 50 years ago.  The picture says it all.  And it is, I believe, why reverberations are being felt in our country.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump Gets Schooled

The conventional wisdom today, especially among Trump supporters is that Trump's tough stance on North Korea got him to stand down.  Kim Jung Un announced that we was not going to fire at Guam after all, after he received plans from his generals to turn the U.S. base into a "ring of fire."  Pundits had been comparing the crisis with North Korea to the Cuban Missile Crisis after it was revealed that North Korea had apparently mastered the technology to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and fit it onto a missile. The crisis persuaded China to cut off North Korean imports of coal, iron and lead.  General Mattis warned as late as yesterday that it would be "game on" if the North Koreans fired at or near Guam. 

The world breathed a sigh of relief when Kim Jung Un announced that it would not do so but reserved the right to change his mind if the U.S. continued in its "reckless behavior."  Memadbers of the administration are high fiving each other, convinced that as in the Cuban Missile Crisis, we went eyeball to eyeball with the Norks and the Norks blinked.

That's not how I see it.   Round 1 goes to North Korea.  Kim Jung Un got all of what he wanted. Trump came away empty handed.   Kim Jung Un played a weak hand masterfully, just as Putin did with Obama.  The man that brags about his negotiating skills got outblustered.

As I predicted, a bad actor would probe the new president to find out where the lines were.  By creating this crisis, Kim Jung Un revealed where all the lines existed.  Last week China announced that the little dictator would be on his own if he fired first at the U.S. but that they would come to his aid if the U.S. launched a preventive war.   Trump responded correctly by bluntly announcing that North Korea would face "fire and fury" if it attacked first.  This blunt language permitted the left wing media to jump to the side of the North Koreans, with the number 2 Democrat publicly stating that Kim Jung Un "is acting more responsible" than Trump.  Others in the MSM voiced similar sentiments.

The only way that the North Korean problem will be solved is through crisis which ends in a negotiation.  Yes, the Chinese implemented some sanctions, but the North Koreans have shown that they can withstand sanctions and over time, those will either be evaded or relaxed. Now that the crisis has abated and he has successfully recruited the American Left as an ally, there is no immediate pressure to pressure the Chinese into leaning into him harder.  The consequence is that Kim Jung Un will, over time, find Chinese sanctions relaxed, the Americans relying on deterrence, and he has learned where everyone's "reserve price" is.  

Well played.  He will keep his program.  And soon the Iranians will have their nuclear missiles too.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

North Korea

Usually, I like being right. 

Especially about predictions because making predictions is hard.  As the wise Yogi Berra once said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”  Consequently, I try not to make too many of them, and, having learned a thing or two from my brothers and sisters in the field of economics, I usually hedge them when I make them.

It was especially difficult to make predictions about Donald Trump, a sometimes impulsive and outsider to the Washington game.  But I did make two.  I predicted that on many dimensions, African Americans as a group would be better off under a Trump administration than they were under Obama.  My second prediction was that after 8 years of American acquiescence and withdrawal from the world stage, he would be tested early in his term.  While the first prediction has yet to be determined, the international test came earlier and with more at stake than I would have thought.  Hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of lives are on the line as North Korea has revealed its nuclear capability.  North Korea has apparently achieved the ability to miniaturize a warhead (this ability was known to Obama since 2013) and possesses more warheads than was previously thought to be the case.  Kim Jung Un continues to issue threats to the U.S. and, as of this writing, have threatened to fire missiles at or near Guam by mid-August.  The situation presents Donald Trump with the most serious crisis since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 (for an excellent analysis of the decisions by the Kennedy Administration read Essence of Decision by Graham Allison).

Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice (and others) have criticized Donald Trump for his clear, direct, and unequivocal threats against North Korea.  She further asserts that we could tolerate a nuclear North Korea, and rely on deterrence.

She couldn’t be more wrong.

The U.S. has kicked this can down the road as far as it can be kicked.  As I warned in my blog post of April 16, I think we are in the most dangerous period since the 1930’s and I don’t see a feasible deal with the North Koreans.  Kim Jung Un will not give up his nuclear weapons.  Susan Rice is dead wrong.  We cannot live with them.  A nuclear North Korean regime must end one way or the other and it must happen within the next few months.

I am loath to criticize prior administrations for not wanting to make the hard decisions sooner.  The horrible calculus always involved a tremendous loss of life.   The North Korean artillery would certainly inflict 50,000-100,000 casualties in Seoul and no American leader has been able to stomach the sentencing of South Korean civilians to death in those numbers.

So we skated along with the Agreed Accord which the Norks violated.  Then Bush tried to appease them by sending cash and aid in exchange for shutting down their reactor, and even took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terror.  They predictably took the cash and aid and restarted.  The North Koreans continued to test under Barack Obama (4 tests), who put more sanctions in place that did nothing to deter the North Koreans program.  Obama at least took a more aggressive stance and launched a cyberwar against their program.

But here we are.   Kim Jung Un has an arsenal of approximately 60 warheads and at least 2 legs of the nuclear triad at his disposal--- ICBM’s and submarine capability (although his submarines are generally older and more trackable, he has 70). He has threatened to launch against the mainland and has unveiled a plan to fire missiles at Guam.

No, Ms. Rice, we cannot tolerate a nuclear North Korea.  This Lucy, Charlie Brown and football charade needs to end now.  This crisis takes us way beyond the vacuous policies of “leading from behind,” and “strategic patience.”   There are several reasons why tolerating a nuclear North Korea is folly.   Aside from the risks associated with relying on Mutual Assured Destruction (which one may argue prevented nuclear catastrophe in the Cold War) with a small nation that is not a peer power, there is the risk that North Korea will become a manufacturer, distributor and licensor of nuclear materials.  Always starved for cash, North Korea would be tempted to sell warheads or know-how to a willing purchaser, whether it be ISIS, the mullahs in Iran or Al-Qaeda.  There is already quite a bit of evidence that Iran and North Korea are cooperating on missile technology.  “Tolerating” a nuclear North Korea is tantamount to “tolerating” a nuclear Iran, which has the destruction of the Great Satan and destruction of the Little Satan written into its charter. Furthermore, permitting North Korea to retain a limited nuclear arsenal is unacceptable because of the risk associated with the electromagnetic pulse (EMP).  A single warhead detonated over the U.S. could wreak havoc and have dire consequences.  Trump was absolutely correct to reject the initial bid of China to propose a nuclear freeze.

Kim Jung Un must not be permitted to remain in power with his nuclear toys.   Period.  He has now changed the risk matrix, making a violent outcome –the unthinkable more thinkable.

The conventional wisdom is that China hold the key to solving the North Korea problem.  That is true and more than we even know and at many levels.  North Korea is an important client state of China.  It exists in its hostile bellicose posture toward the U.S.  because that is exactly what China wants.  China is not our friend.  It seeks to overtake the U.S. and become a dominant world power.  Its actions in the South China Sea over the past few years belie its intent.  North Korea is a useful client state.   North Korea continuously challenges the U.S. and that is of value to the Chinese, because it gives the Chinese plausible deniability.   Moreover, North Korea gives the Chinese a “free look” at our military exercises and our responses on the South Korean peninsula.   General Jack Keane said outright that the Chinese are not only complicit in the North Korean nuclear program, the speed at which the North Koreans advanced their program suggests that the Chinese supplied some of the parts and technology.   The fact that Chinese trade with North Korea actually expanded during this period says a great deal.  As I wrote in my prior blog post—follow the money. I’m sure that they secretly hope that we decide to attempt to knock down the next North Korean missile test.  The Chinese would love to see how our systems respond under battlefield conditions.    All the while the Chinese are shrugging their shoulders, claiming that their influence over the North Korean dictator is limited.   The status quo exists because China likes it this way.

Those that criticize Trump for his rhetoric are mistaken.  Kim Jung Un needs to be told clearly and publicly that an attack on U.S. soil or one of our allies will end his regime.  Trump is doing his best to send this message personally and through General Mattis.  We’ll see if it actually sinks in.  Kim Jung Un may conclude that the U.S. draws false “red lines” and that he has the upper hand.  It would be a miscalculation of historic proportions.  But it is a miscalculation that Saddam Hussein made.

War in the Korean Peninsula would be horrific and would entail massive loss of life.  And unlike our wars with Iraq, in which the Iraqi army did not put up much of a fight, our experiences in Asia have been quite different.  In WWII, the first Korean War and in Vietnam, we learned that Asians will fight and will fight until the end.   We have 1 win, 1 loss and 1 draw in Asia and we won against Japan by going nuclear.  In order to save Seoul, we might very well be forced to go nuclear in Asia again.  On the plus side, unlike 9/11 where we were caught by surprise, we have been preparing, scenario planning and war gaming a war with North Korea for over half a century. 

If there is a diplomatic way out, it is by bargaining directly with China.  I would consider offering this bargain to China:  Kim Jung Un goes.  His nuclear program goes.  The artillery gets pulled back from the DMZ.  You may install a puppet government more or less to your liking.   We would offer to pull back a certain amount of our troops, take out the THAAD system and put a moratorium on war games on the peninsula for a period of time- say three years.   I would also point out to the Chinese that they would not tolerate a threat such as North Korea against them, and that the alternative is either (1) a catastrophic war on the peninsula or at best (2) a massive deterrence that includes arming up the South Koreans and Japanese and that arming up may include nuclear forces.   But any bargain cannot include maintaining North Korea as a nuclear power.

Where this ends, I cannot predict.  Since China has said that they will defend the Norks if we act pre-emptively, I suspect that Kim Jung Un will test that line in an ambiguous way by firing missiles in the direction of Guam but not close enough to cause casualties or damage property.  I also suspect that there will be some form of military engagement before it is over.  This crisis will come to the brink before it is resolved—one way or another.

The crisis with North Korea must be seen in conjunction with Trump's actions in Syria.  Leon Panetta's statement that "this is not a reality show" is irresponsible and misguided.  What we are seeing emerge is a form of a Trump doctrine in foreign policy.  And it is this, "IF YOU USE WMD AGAINST ANYONE OR THREATEN TO USE WMD AGAINST US OR OUR ALLIES, THERE WILL BE AN IMMEDIATE, FORCEFUL AND UNAMBIGUOUS RESPONSE."  

This is a deadly serious chess game.  So far, Trump is playing it correctly by messaging the Chinese as well as the North Koreans that we will respond if the situation requires it.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Follow the Money

Money is fungible ….and finite.  It appears that the political class either doesn’t understand that or is willfully blind to those realities. 

As someone that reviews and assesses budgets in my professional life, I understand that cash is like oxygen to an organization.  If you want to understand what an organization’s priorities are and where it is really going, follow the cash.  It tells you everything about where an organization is headed. This concept applies in government as well as in business.  And in both places, people will often go to great lengths to obscure where money is really flowing.

To understand some of the Obama deals that Trump is unwinding, and to know exactly what the Obama Administration was up to, all you need to do is follow the money.   Often, the Obama deals were thinly veiled redistribution efforts; others used public funds to finance left wing groups; still others astonishingly funded terror operations and tyranny.  When you add it all up, it paints a disturbing picture of what the Obama Administration was attempting to accomplish- all outside the bounds of the intent of the Founders, who intended Congress to maintain power of the purse.

Number One.  The Paris Climate Accord.  Thankfully, dahling, we’ll never have Paris.  The pundits shrieked and stamped their feet after Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would not abide by the Paris Accord,  complaining about the abdication of U.S. leadership by pulling out.  The Paris Accord followed the Obama blueprint for international deals.  The U.S.  grants concessions and provides cash in the hopes that others will act beneficently later with no meaningful enforcement or remedy provisions in the deal.  But if you follow the commitments, you would see that the U.S. committed to reductions in carbon emissions now (with the loss of approximately 1 million jobs), but reductions by the other major emitters – India and China—would not start until the year 2030.  What do you think would be likely to happen when we ring the doorbell of the Chinese in the year and remind them of their commitment?  Only the hopelessly na├»ve would trust that the Chinese would live up to their end of the bargain.

But an even more odious aspect of the Paris Accord was the “green fund” under which the U.S. committed $1 billion (not appropriated by Congress) while India and China committed nothing.  These funds were to be used to finance “green projects” in developing nations.  The Chinese would not fund directly but since we are borrowing (much from the Chinese) to fund our deficit, we would be borrowing from the Chinese to hand money over to an international body which would, in turn, finance “green projects” in countries run by tinpot dictators like Maduro of Venezuela.  What could possibly go wrong?  Think 1,000 points of Solyndra.

Number Two. Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  The deal with Iran preceded the Paris Accord.  Trump has not yet abrogated it but has “put Iran on notice” and initiated additional sanctions.  JPCOA was structured similarly to the Paris Accord.  We provide cash up front, permit the Iranians to self-monitor and there would be no real remedies or penalties if Iran is caught violating the deal.  Obama detached this deal from all other aspects of the relationship, including missile technology development.  As part of the deal, the Obama administration released Iranian funds held since the Iranian Revolution and shipped the mullahs $400 million in cash.  Not surprisingly, Iran and Hezbollah have since gone on a military spending spree, and Iran continues apace with its missile program.  Even John Kerry and Susan Rice admitted at the time that part of the funds would finance terrorism.  Of course it would.  Money is fungible.  Iran has some sort of governmental budgeting process.  The additional windfall of cash will be used to finance terror and Iran’s military.  The U.S. may be the only nation in history to finance the military buildup of a sworn enemy.

Number Three.  Government financing of leftist groups. Attorney General Jeff Sessions finally ended the Obama practice of using funds garnered from fines and settlement amounts levied against banks and diverting these funds to favored left leaning groups instead of back into Treasury where they belong.  This end around Congress was a clever Constitutional avoidance maneuver, designed to circumvent Congressional spending power.  The government threatened to sue large banks over transgressions related to the ’08 real estate debacle and purported racial bias.  Rather than face protracted litigation and trials, banks settled these claims.  Bank settlements totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Obama Administration sprinkled these funds to various “community group” instead of sending the money back to Treasury.   Of course, no vote by Congress was taken to appropriate these funds.

Number Four.  Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood is fond of spouting out its misleading claim that only 3% of its services go toward abortion.  The reality is that Planned Parenthood is responsible for approximately one third of the abortions performed in the U.S.  Whether you agree with Roe v Wade or not, abortion is a pretty nasty business and Planned Parenthood has gone to great lengths to distort its business and suppress the callousness with which the organization and abortion providers view these “services.”    Planned Parenthood was caught on videotape dickering over the price of fetus body parts, and in another recent video taken at a conference of abortionists, the speakers glibly  talked about fetuses being “tough little buggers” and even guffawed at some of the practices.   It’s easy to see that some people do not want their tax dollars flowing to these activities.  But even worse, Planned Parenthood donated $730,000 to the losing Democratic candidate in the 6th Congressional District in Georgia.  Since money is fungible, taxpayers are funding a Democratic candidate’s campaign.  If Planned Parenthood so desperately needs taxpayer funds to finance their services, then how can Planned Parenthood be financing the candidacy of a politician?

Fourth is NATO.  Trump was blistered in the press for chiding Angela Merkel for Germany’s failure to live up to its commitment to spend 2% of its GDP on defense.   Internationalists like Richard Haass were horrified at Trump’s blunt criticism of Merkel (and other NATO members) for not stepping up to THE COMMITMENTS THAT HAVE ALREADY BEEN MADE.  But why should the U.S. taxpayer continue to underwrite Europe’s security, especially when Merkel has opened Europe’s borders to Islamic immigration (which will add hundreds of thousands of dependents on the European welfare state).  Merkel won’t have to make hard budgetary and policy choices as long as the U.S. is footing a disproportionate share of its security.   With the U.S. budget in permanent structural deficit, this is simply no longer possible.  The situation is made worse by the Obama administration’s decision to end the “two war policy” –that is the policy of maintaining sufficient readiness to fight two major conflicts simultaneously.   Obama ended this policy just as risk of needing to fight two simultaneous conflicts has dramatically increased.  The U.S. is being challenged daily by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and radical Islam.  Now, more than at any time since WWII, Europe needs to choose more guns than butter if it wishes to defend itself. 

Which brings me to Number Five and this one is local.  The Illinois legislature, led by Democratic boss Mike Madigan corralled enough Republicans to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto and passed a 32% tax increase with no structural changes in operations.  The entire tax increase will be eaten up by required pension payments.  But remember that money is fungible.   The tax increase is a transfer of money that would otherwise be available for taxpayers to fund their own retirement accounts to the pensions of state employees, many of whom retired 10 years earlier than workers in the private sector.  The net result is that private sector workers are slaving away to pay for the comfortable leisurely retirement of others.  And since higher education (education is preparing the young for the future) in Illinois is one area that is being asked to tighten its belt to provide for public sector pensioners (the past), the state legislature is effectively robbing the future to pay for the past.  In both instances, state government is taking resources from currently  productive people and businesses and future productive people to make payments to past political cronies to whom they have overcommitted.  Illinois politicians have figured out how to steal from our children’s piggybanks.

When you take the time to watch where money is moving, you will see that Western governments are underwriting Islamic immigration to the West, shortchanging the defense of Europe, financing the killing of fetuses and leftist groups,  draining education and productive workers to pay for fat pensions for state workers, and most hideously and perversely, financing terror.

If you want to truly understand where politicians are taking us, always follow the money.  The money trail will tell the tale.  And this is, in part, behind the blind hatred of Donald Trump on the left.  He has figured this out and is in the process of stopping the self-destructive horrible deals that have been crafted by the political establishment.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Happy 200th

A little over 3 ½ decades ago, I sat quietly on a large rock overlooking a glassy, peaceful pond in rural central Maine, scribbling away at a draft of my summer mid-term paper for my American Literature course taught by the distinguished Robert Streeter (now deceased).  The paper was to be on the transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau.  Professor Streeter had such an unbridled enthusiasm for American Literature that he nearly resurrected these authors for the summer—Franklin, Hawthorne, Melville, Anne Bradstreet.  To this day, I can recite the first paragraph of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by heart.  But I have always had a special connection to Thoreau.

That day in Maine was one of the peak experiences in my life—how perfect it was to write about Thoreau on a pond on the East Coast.  I still remember that day—bright and sunny, with a few puffs of clouds in the sky, the croaking frogs, the cattails and the reeds, the dragonflies dancing over the tops of them.

Henry David Thoreau is my favorite American essayist, a foundational member of the American canon in literature.  There have been few writers that at one time have captured the essence of nature, the American spirit, and helped define man’s relationship to society and nature.  It is fitting that the Library of America’s volume entitled American Earth begins with Thoreau’s works.

Last summer I attended an outdoor play Nature at the Morton Arboretum, which was a walking play about Emerson and Thoreau and their relationship.   Held in the elements, nature fittingly became a participant in the production.   The part of Emerson was in fact played by a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson.   It was one of the most innovative and enrapturing productions I have ever seen.
Earlier this summer I attended a presentation by Laura Dassow Walls, a professor at Notre Dame, whose new biography on Thoreau is being released in connection with his birthday celebration.   I had an opportunity to meet and chat with Ms. Walls and look forward to reading her book.  I had hoped to join the celebration of his birthday in Concord which is being marked by a weeklong series of events put on by the Thoreau Society ( but alas, life did not cooperate.  Walden Pond will need to remain on my bucket list for now.  

But here’s to the writer that has helped shaped my thinking in many ways—about life, and being human and government.   And here are a couple of my favorite Thoreauisms:

  • ·         Simplify, simplify.
  • ·         Most men live lives of quiet desperation.
  • ·         Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not the fish they are after.
  • ·         Men have become tools of their tools [did he foresee the smartphone?]
  • ·         That government that governs best governs least.

This weekend I gave a nod to Mr. Thoreau during my weekly golf game.  I told my partners that I was going to lock my phone in my bag and ban discussion of Donald Trump during our game.  Instead, I focused on the natural surroundings and sights, sounds, and smells of the course. I paid attention to the trees, the long grasses, the cry of the hawk that patrols the 5th hole, the scream of blue jays, the sound of the water.  I soaked in the sunshine and turned it into a sensual experience.  It was the most enjoyable round I’ve had in years.  I still enjoyed the time with my group (Thoreau was not an anti-social guy), but it was an entirely different experience staying in the moment without distractions.

Since I can’t go to Concord, I will celebrate his birthday by doing the next best thing.  I will take a volume of his writings to the Chicago Botanic Garden Wednesday evening and find a place to read quietly.  

Thoreau, in part, inspired me to regularly keep a journal throughout my entire adult life, which has been a great source of pleasure and reflection, raw material for other writing as well as a source of history for my family.

Happy birthday, Henry David.  I am grateful for the ways in which you have enriched my life.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Road Warrior

“Home field advantage” often conveys a big edge in performance in most team sports.   Hockey, basketball and football teams compete for an entire season to gain a higher seed and , therefore, home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  But occasionally there is that anomalous team that actually does better on the road.

Donald Trump is that kind of guy.

It seems that when he is at home, he gets tangled up in Twitter wars with this or that Trump bashing pundit that distracts from his agenda.  Perhaps when he  preparing to meet foreign leaders, he is too busy to have his thumbs on his smartphone.

This week in Warsaw, Trump gave the best speech abroad since Reagan’s “Tear down this wall”  speech over 30 years ago.  He abandoned his “America first” focus and delivered a full throated defense of Western Civilization and made a case of why it is worth defending.  The speech was in direct contrast to the speeches abroad given by Barack Obama (most notably the Cairo speech, in which he spent much of his time apologizing to the world for the West’s arrogance.  Lost in the fetish of multiculturalism are the wonderful attributes of Western Civilization—respect for individual rights, individual liberty, consent of the governed, free speech, equality under the law, innovation, wealth creation.   Advancing those virtues abroad were largely absent during the Obama years.  They are what set us apart from the Chinese tyranny, the Russian oligarchy, and the Middle East dictatorships.   These values are what make us superior and are worth fighting to defend.

It was fitting that the speech was made in Warsaw.  Poland was caught between two dictatorships during WWII—Hitler and Stalin and it suffered under Soviet rule for 45 years.
The Poles know tyranny.  Yet they endured.  And the Russian bear remain  at their doorstep.  The , Poles along with the Czechs and the Hungarians are resisting the EU dictates to take more Islamic immigrants. They are not afraid to defend their culture and do not accept terrorism as “part and parcel of modern life.” 

His speech was stirring, acknowledging the durability of the Poles, the importance of religion and warned of the threats from within and without (including excessive regulation) that threaten Western culture.   The Poles loved it and the throng chanted “USA” on several occasions.

Trump has been derided as bigoted and sneered at because of his America first foreign policy.
But his Middle East speech and his Warsaw speech showed something quite different.  His Middle East speech laid out a vision for what Islamic culture could be if it expunged the plague of terrorism.  In Poland, he challenged the West and asked if it had the will to survive.  In both places, he talked about the greatness of those people, their accomplishments and their civilizations. 

I found it puzzling that Richard Haass found the speech “tired and tedious.”  I found it stirring and so did the Poles.  It was almost as if Haass and I had read two different texts.

I found the speech inspiring, and it would be terribly ironic if Trump became a great foreign policy president.