Work Around

May 28, 2017
Fans of auto racing understand the concept of momentum. Lift your foot off the gas pedal and it takes a couple of laps to regain the momentum that you’ve lost. Watchers of today’s Indianapolis 500 race heard the commentators say several times that the failure to complete a pass would run the risk of being passed by two or three cars because that failure would lead to a lifting, while the cars immediately behind would continue charging ahead and easily pass.
Today Angela Merkel said out loud what I’ve thought for a while; It’s time to start thinking about a world without America at the forefront. We’ve been dragging the world around as its leader since 1942, and many think it’s time for our friends to step up and assume more responsibility so that we don’t have to do–and pay for–everything.
The real risk of what the Trump Administration is advocating is a loss of American momentum. The world is figuring out how to live without American leadership. I’ve had clients talk to me about agricultural deals being negotiated between countries on the chance that American farm products are no longer available under existing trade deals, costing the U.S. farm exports.  With Merkel’s pronouncement, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the rise of defense industries across Europe, costing American defense jobs and exports. “What if the Americans are serious about this?” is the question being asked around the globe. As they go on without us, we will soon wonder why American interests are no longer at the front of the agenda and we will regret it.
As previously discussed in this space six (6) years ago (so this is not a phenomenon limited to our current Dear Leader), American Exceptionalism is a scarce resource, and one that is exhaustible if we’re not careful. One this has become abundantly clear; we’re not careful and no longer value this resource, despite the flag pins on every lapel and daily pledges of fealty to the concept.
Once the world figures out how to live without America at the lead, it will take years, if not generations, to restore our place at the front of the pack, if we ever can.
There are those who believe that making others step up for what America has covered in the past is a good thing. That may be true in certain limited respects, but I’m certain that we will live to regret taking our foot off the gas and letting those countries figure this out and speed past us while we fix the alleged problem of bearing the weight of the world on our very capable shoulders. We will rue the day we’re no longer leading, and dictating how things are worked out. If people are upset with the way things are now, imagine how upset they’ll be with am impudent America whose desires are ignored by a world that’s figured out how to live without us.
It will take many laps around the Sun to restore our place at the lead if we let this happen. We will stop talking about “American Exceptionalism” and begin talking about “American Ordinariness” very soon.


May 25, 2017

“The defining moments of our lives don’t come with advance warning.”

–Sally Yates, Former Acting Attorney General of the U.S.

May 24, 2017

As we prepare to leave the town that has been our home for the last 19 years, there’s a story that some people know and some don’t that traces the arc of our years here that bears retelling. I’ve been asked to tell it many times over the last 12 years. In its immediate aftermath, I couldn’t leave the house without being asked to tell it or in some way be reminded of it. With the passage of time and the inevitable turnover of neighbors and friends, I’m asked about it much less frequently. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about that day almost every time I walk down our street. I retell it here not for any purpose other than posterity and to share some reflections about that day that have grown more refined over time.


We moved to Wilmette in 1998, shortly after I dodged a work-related bullet by not moving to Charlotte, NC for a job working with people I didn’t think I would have enjoyed in a place that didn’t feel right for our family for a variety of reasons. Our family of five had outgrown our three-bedroom, 1923 French Tudor in Arlington Heights, and we had been looking to move within that community when the Charlotte opportunity first appeared. I took the call to discuss the job on an April day after a storm dropped four inches of slush and I was walking to the train without any boots, ruining my shoes. Frustrated by the seeming endlessness of winter, Charlotte seemed like a good idea at the time. Despite my misgivings about the position, we were willing to entertain moving for the financial rewards it offered. Before accepting the position, I spoke to my boss, telling him that I didn’t want to go, but felt I had no economic choice. To my surprise and relief, the firm matched the offer and made me feel warm and also fuzzy. With the economic deal neutralized, I could focus on working with the people I liked, in a place I felt comfortable.

But our willingness to relocate raised a question: why were we willing to move 800 miles away, but only look for a new home within a one square mile area of Arlington? It was time to broaden the search. With a helpful sister-in-law in Evanston, the new search area included Wilmette and after a couple disappointments in both towns, we landed here.

Six months later, that decision to avoid the Charlotte job came full circle as the Charlotte firm bought us out, and the people who had tried to hire me and whom I disappointed by not coming were suddenly my bosses. Having already said “no” to them and their town once and understanding that the future of the group was in Charlotte, I knew the next segment of my career wouldn’t be easy.

Our transition to Wilmette was eased by the fact that there were several people in my group who lived in town, as did a couple other people I knew around the firm. One was an Arlington native. The other was a Canadian. Both played tennis and invited me into their regular games. We’d frequently meet at a park in Southeast Wilmette that was walking distance from our homes.

The Canadian had been with the bank for many years, and was stationed for a time in Brazil. It was there that he and his wife adopted a small boy. I think he was about three years old when they took him in. Whenever anyone spoke of the boy’s life before the adoption, it would invariably include tales of how challenging it had been, including references to the child wandering the streets alone and scavenging for food. Through the years, I’d hear stories from my colleague of his adopted son’s challenges in school or sports with his fiery temper, and how it taxed my Canadian friend’s essential Canadian-ness.

Knowing that the bank’s long-term plan was to aggregate the people they wanted in Charlotte and get rid of the rest, I began looking for another job in Chicago shortly after arriving in Wilmette. Despite no longer working together, the tennis games continued, even though I saw the Canadian less frequently.

Three jobs later, and for reasons more complicated than bear telling here, we arrived on Beechwood Avenue in April 2005. I had started working for a group that covered the mortgage industry. Even then, there were signs of a looming collapse (although it was viewed as “another mortgage cycle,” and not yet as something that would break the world’s financial system). I had a client from South Carolina who had their annual bank meeting at Westmoreland CC in Wilmette. I’ve forgotten exactly why a Greenville, SC company would do such a thing, but they enjoyed the facility and it made it much easier on their Chicago bankers, so we embraced it. It was May 23, 2005.


We had always had dogs growing up. I loved animals in general, and always seemed to connect with them. If you’re walking your dog down the street chances are good that I’ll greet your dog before acknowledging you. Having the love of a dog is an irreplaceable feeling for me. Their need for you to care for them is matched by their desire to care for you. The way they hug you with their eyes, and know when you need some of their kindness. Their unrestrained joy when they see you after an absence of any length is infectious to me.

Our first dog arrived when I was in kindergarten; a black dachshund named Schatzie. She made it until I was in 5th grade, when she succumbed to something I can’t remember. I recall having to walk the three blocks home at lunch on days when my mother was substitute teaching to tend to her during her last days. I remember being tremendously sad and lonely in the days following her death. I was ten.

A couple years after Schatzie left us, we adopted Mindy, a rambunctious Scottish Terrier. She was with us from 7th grade until I was out of college and married.

My wife wasn’t a dog person. I’m told they had a dog for a very short time when she was very young (only long enough to take one picture, I think). As a result, the absence of a dog in her life left her with no pressing need to get one as our family grew. Knowing that she’d be the one to tend to the pet most of the time, I deferred to her on the subject. As the kids grew, the demands for a pet grew more incessant. At one point, the girls asked for a cat. It led to the only real lie we’ve told our kids. We told them that we were allergic to cats. While Midge wasn’t a dog person, she was definitely not a cat person. (Cat people tell me often about how great their cat is, and proclaim their pet’s canine qualities. If the best thing you can say about your cat is how much it’s like a dog, you should have gotten a dog and saved yourself the trouble.)

By the fall of 2004, we could wait no longer, and contacted a breeder in Indiana for a cockapoo. Born in September, Tillie arrived at Thanksgiving. She was everything we wanted. Calm, cute, and playful, she was great in all respects. I think she only barked a dozen times in her horribly short life. We found that she had calcifying discs in her back at age three that left her in need of surgery when one of them ruptured. Given her very young age, we thought she deserved a chance, so she made it through the surgery and recovery, only to have another disc go out two years later. With six more deteriorating discs, and a deteriorating quality of life, it was clear that she couldn’t go on. She was so sad at the end. We waited for our oldest to come home from college at Thanksgiving for one final goodbye. The last month, November 2009, was an emotional nightmare. I remember everything about the last walk we had and the last time I saw her. The fundamental unfairness of having that happen to such a sweet little dog breaks my heart. She and her sad eyes were looking to me for help and I feel like I failed her. I’m (obviously) still not over it.


With our move to Beechwood in 2005, Tillie, then about 8-months old, needed to learn her new boundaries, so we’d take her in the back yard on a leash and walk her around while we waited for the infernal invisible fence to be installed. On that May morning, having returned from one of my infrequent trips to Life Time Fitness and with some time on my hands before my meeting, I walked Tillie around the backyard. The street was buzzing with activity as kids were on their way to school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the last day for seniors at New Trier.

You grow familiar with noises. The ones from your neighborhood and those from the inventory of sound you’ve accumulated over a lifetime. The way the neighbor kid screams at her brother. The teenagers yelling for their friends. The neighbor’s car and the way they zoom away. While we’d not lived there long, one thing was certain. The level of activity on the street and the high number of little kids meant that it was impossible or simply dangerous to drive fast. But as I stood holding the leash in my backyard that morning, I heard what had to be a truck coming down the block from east to west at a high rate of speed and accelerating. I knew it was a truck not just because of the volume of the engine, but from the sound the knobby tires made as they raced up our concrete street. It got my attention. I began to walk toward our back door.

Then suddenly there was a quick series of other sounds; two quick thuds, a crash–a small but unmistakable one, then screaming.

Running the last few steps into our kitchen, I yelled at our daughter to get the dog off the leash and headed for the front door. By the time I got out the front door the screaming had stopped. I looked to the west to see that a black pickup truck had jumped the curb and had hit a car parked at the end of the driveway three doors down. It was stopped at an angle to the car in the driveway on the grass. Next to the truck, I saw a man in a white t-shirt standing over a woman, kicking her repeatedly. While that was bad enough, I also saw that she was making no effort to defend herself. I took off running toward him, screaming something really smart like, “Hey, stop that!” The clear thinking had already stopped.

I’ve heard criminal lawyers talk about the misconception that eyewitness testimony is detailed and accurate. The Innocence Project, a place I volunteered while between banking gigs, says that faulty eyewitness testimony is responsible for 70% of false convictions. In the minutes that followed, I gained a firsthand appreciation for how confused and foggy memories can be. While I wrote most of what you’re about to read down contemporaneously, there were details I couldn’t remember even five minutes after it was over.

As I got to the site of the incident, I saw two people standing near the front step of the house. I identified them as older, like my parents’ age. The man was wearing a jacket and tie. I have no idea what the woman had on. Even though I was thirty feet from them, I couldn’t tell you what they looked like. It was a little like a Magritte painting, except their faces were pixelated rather than covered with apples. I couldn’t understand why they were just standing there, as the young woman lay motionless.

“Call the cops!” I yelled as I ran by, in a voice that implied, “you idiots!” It was the last I saw of that couple for three or four months. I later found out that they were just standing there because the older man had tried to stop the beating and had been attacked himself by the young man.

Having started running as soon as he heard me yelling, the assailant had a three-house lead on me, heading west down the sidewalk. I yelled at him. “We have your car. We’ll find out who you are,” never even thinking that it might be a stolen vehicle. He looked back, but kept running down the sidewalk. Two houses down from the incident, a delivery guy walked into the front yard and asked what was going on as I ran past. I shouted something and saw him start running with me, about a house and a half behind me.

It was only as he approached the corner that it occurred to me that he might be armed, but for some reason, I didn’t think he had a gun. I recall thinking, “He might have a knife.” Weird, no? Afterword, I thought I’d never seen anyone that angry before and if he’d have had a gun he would have already used it. Thank god that wasn’t the case.

The gap between us was growing. I’ve always hated running and never do it. As a high school tennis player, our coach would make us run 2 1/2 miles if practice didn’t go as he’d intended, so I always associated running with punishment. “I’ll take up running the next time I see a runner smiling while they do it,” said Joan Rivers. I felt the same way, but on this day, I wished I had been better at it. He’d rounded the corner and was heading south on Hunter, with his speed increasing as I was fading.

Instinct is a funny thing. A couple weeks ago, I was in an Uber going to O’Hare and got rear-ended in heavy traffic on the Kennedy Expressway. Already late and unable to get to a CTA stop without a long walk, I got out of the car and hailed a taxi in the middle of the highway. I didn’t really sit there and think about it. I evaluated my options (sit there and wait, go get on the L, get in another car), checked them off one by one (the insurance information exchange was going to take a while, the L was too far and it was raining, let’s try to get another ride) and just did it.

Once I got to the corner, the chasee was already across Kenilworth Avenue, still running down the sidewalk. It was looking hopeless.

I don’t know why I stepped into the road and started waving my arms to get someone to stop, but I did. In some ways it was brilliant, but I was flagging down cars going in the wrong direction, so it wasn’t that brilliant. A car with a mom and a young girl in the back-seat heading north slowed, and I approached the drivers’ side and quickly give her the story, asking her for a ride to catch up to the guy running south in the white t-shirt. I was convincing enough for her to agree to give me a ride, but not without some precautions. She ordered her daughter into the front seat, and me into the back. She whipped the car around to go head south. As we started, we passed my delivery man friend, still running after the guy.

“Stop and pick that guy up. He’s helping me catch him.” I said. To her great credit, the woman refused. “I’m not letting two strange men into my car,” she said. Smart woman. I’d never seen her before, and haven’t since that day. I later found out her name was Nancy.

Now southbound, we passed him as he crossed Chestnut, still running down the sidewalk. Nancy pulled over at Thornwood and let me out. We now had him bracketed, with the delivery man coming up the rear and me in front.

He was surprised to see me in front of him, thinking he’d lost my old ass a couple blocks back. It is at this point that I have only my third conscious thought since opening my front door: “Now what?”

He came directly at me. The distance he’d covered running seemed to have no effect on him. My time commandeering a vehicle and sitting in the car gave me enough of a break that I could now function, although I was still 20 years his senior. Getting my first up-close look at him, I now see that he’d never neglected arm day at the gym. Not a good sign.

Again, my instincts kicked in. Growing up in the era of Ali, I began to circle clockwise, backpedaling with my hands up like the Greatest of All Time once did. After ducking a couple punches from him, he surprised me by saying, “I give up” a couple times. I think he was waiting for me to drop my guard, because every time he said it, he’d throw a couple more errant punches. At some point, I was able to grab his arm. He spun and as I hung on, I lost my footing. I’m not sure how, but I ended up on top of him, but on my back. I was lucky to get my chin down before his well-toned arm came around to choke my pencil neck. His arm stayed over my mouth and chin, squeezing.

Now on my back, I could see the handful of people gathered around; all but one of them women. While the attempted choking continued, I asked the assembled group, “Is no one going to help me?” It wasn’t meant as a rhetorical question, but it unfortunately functioned as one.

At some point there was a shift of position, and I ended up on top of him, with him on all fours, in the starting position for a wrestling match, again, professing to give up. (I later found out that he was a high school wrestler.) Still fully flexed and ready to spring if I let up on him, I asked, “If you give up, why are you still struggling?” He offered no reply. I think that the only advantage I had was my weight. Finally, a reward for being a fat ass. Having modest control of the situation, I felt a very strong urge to hit him. I didn’t though, fearing that disconnecting from him would give him an opportunity to either escape or attack me. I was content to hang on and ride it out.

Suddenly three squad cars came to a screeching stop. Officers come out with their hands on their guns. Unsure of what they encountered and who was the “bad guy,” there was a moment’s hesitation. Then I felt the kid relax, knowing the end had come. Seconds later, he was handcuffed. It was over.


Starting with the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, we’ve grown sadly accustomed to the grotesque site of police officers beating civilians–or worse. Following the King beating, fellow LAPD officers were quoted as talking about the adrenaline of the chase and how that affects officers once their assailant is caught. At the moment at which my assailant was cuffed and controlled by authorities, it was then that I wanted to kick his ass. It was an almost out of body experience. I remember hearing myself yelling at him. I’ve not hit anyone since I was in 7th grade, but at that moment, I really wanted to go at him. I’m very glad I didn’t. I’m not in any way excusing those officers who participate in those terrible incident. They’re professionals and supposed to be able to control those emotions and act professionally to protect the community and the rights of the accused, but in that moment, I understood a little better what those LA cops were talking about.


I asked the officers about the status of the victim. They looked at each other, perplexed. I was later told that 9-1-1 had received 16 calls from people along the route of the chase, so the police had no clear idea of where they were going or what they were going to find. Unfortunately, in the chaos, apparently no one had called for an EMT. Grabbing a ride home from one of the officers, we stopped in front of the scene of the initial incident. The young girl was still lying there, motionless. A woman was standing over her. I later found out that it was her mother, who had inadvertently witnessed her daughter’s beating, without knowing it was her daughter being victimized.

I walked the remaining distance home. My wife, who had been upstairs drying her hair when I flew out the front door, was still up there with a jet engine in one hand and a brush in the other. Jazzed on adrenaline like never before, I couldn’t sit down. Panting like a dog on a hot day when she finally saw me, she thought I was having a heart attack. Over the next several minutes, I told her what had transpired. We watched the paramedics arrive down the street and the crime scene tape strung up around the yard.

I went to my meeting. I stood in the back and paced for most of it, still unable to sit still and still fighting a racing heartbeat. I played golf that day, too. Unlike most days, I remember nothing of that round, other than talking to my wife who had been contacted by the police, asking me to come in that evening.

When I went to the police station to talk to the Assistant State’s Attorney, I told my story, but I also had some questions about the assailant. Would his family know about my involvement? Was there any reason to be concerned for the safety of my family? How was the victim? Why did this happen?

No, the young lawyer told me, there was no reason to be concerned about your safety. She said, “The young man lived in Southeast Wilmette and…” A bomb went off in my head. I didn’t hear anything after that, for I knew that it was my Canadian friend’s son. A feeling of sadness overcame me, as concern for my friend and his family was added to my concern for the victim and her family.

Over the course of the next few weeks, more of the questions about what had happened and why were answered. We learned he had been romantically involved with the girl, who was two years younger, during their high school days. They had broken up, but he hadn’t handled it well, harassing her in various ways. He eventually left high school early, a departure that was in some way linked by some to his inability to get over their relationship. After that, his life apparently hadn’t worked out as he’d planned and he held her responsible. I was told that since this particular Monday was to be her last day at the high school that caused him such trouble, it seems he had decided to ruin her high school experience as she had ruined his. He was lying in wait for her to walk to school, and he planned on doing harm to her with his truck. When in custody, he told the police, “I was trying to kill her.”

When the ASA told me that during my interview, I responded, “This kid clearly doesn’t watch enough TV.” It was an unfortunate thing for him to admit.


Like many people, I really don’t like those interviews you see on TV where the reporter asks victims or witnesses about what they’re thinking or feeling in the immediate aftermath of something awful. I was hoping that no call would come for me to give one of those interviews. It did. I was reluctant to talk, knowing that the story was much more complicated than people could know, given my connection to the father of the attacker, and I was sensitive to both families. I knew of the need for a pithy quote and worried sounding foolish or flippant. I knew that the story would contain errors–not deliberately, but rather a misstatement or an omission of a meaningful fact. I understand that the number of column inches available isn’t infinite and parts of the story don’t fit, but those factors left me reluctant to participate. The interview request came from the son of a friend of ours. He was a young journalist for the local paper, looking to get started. He was introduced to me as his father’s son. I relented to do the kid a favor. As the interview progressed, I realized that I should have trusted my instincts. Ultimately it was probably fine, because people have short memories and don’t take those things as seriously as I do, but it was still uncomfortable and not something I’d do again.


I don’t remember the exact extent of the victim’s injuries, but I think she at least had a concussion and a broken jaw. There may have been a skull fracture and a collarbone injury in there, too. She was hospitalized for quite a while. We had some friends who had children the same age as the victim. High school graduation was coming. As the day approached, I was told that it wasn’t clear if she’d be able to walk with her class. The day after the ceremony, I was told of the tumultuous ovation she received as she was the final graduate presented, having gone directly from the hospital to the ceremony.

We had no contact with her or her family for an extended period; an almost uncomfortable length of time. But later that summer, we got a call from her mom with a request to come by for a visit. We sat in our back yard and talked. She’d never heard the story of what happened that day. Her mom hadn’t walked down toward our end of the block since it happened. She was quiet and still dealing with all of it when we met. It would have been a lot for an adult of any age to handle, let alone an 18-year old. She was off to college in the fall and anxious to get out of Wilmette. Her mom was anxious to sell the house and get off the block that almost took her daughter. No one would blame either of them for wanting to get out.

In the years since 2005, I’ve received a few Christmas cards from the victim, who is now married and living out of state. We exchanged emails a few years ago, but nothing more. I’m fine with that. I represent a bad day for her. No one should have to relive that experience indefinitely. I hope she’s ok. I think about her when I pass her old house to our east, and pass the site of the incident to our west. We all move on.


Given my relationship with his father, I was uncomfortable with the fact that charges were filed in my name against him, but in the larger scheme, I suspect they meant little. After that first day, I never had any more contact with the police or those prosecuting the case. I heard through friends that he would going to plead guilty to attempted murder and a sentence and prison location were being worked out. He would eventually be sentenced to 7 1/2 years in state prison. During the case, there was a young woman from a nearby suburb who decided to end her life. The method she chose was to get in her car and speed through a crowded intersection. When she did that, she hit another car and killed three people in the same family. She survived. She was sentenced to 3 years in prison. After that, I stopped looking for rational conclusions from the criminal justice system.


My Canadian friend was eventually transferred to Charlotte. I only saw him once after the incident, at the birthday party of a mutual friend. We talked for a short time. I was surprised that he thanked me for being there that morning. He told me that I saved his son from doing worse damage. Until that moment, I’d never really considered that, even after hearing about what he told the police. I heard that retirement was coming soon, and that they hoped to return to Canada. There was one last complication.

While my Canadian colleague and his wife had become U.S. citizens, their son had not. When non-U.S. citizens are released from jail, they are deported to their home country. That meant a trip loomed to a country that he’d not been to since he was a toddler; a place to which he had no connection. Through negotiations with the Canadian government, a deal was cut to let the now 30-year old live in British Columbia with relatives, a few miles north of the U.S. border, while his parents live in Washington on the U.S. side, a few miles south of the Canadian frontier. In 2013, the family was at last reunited in British Columbia.

I concluded early on that the young man wasn’t a truly bad person, despite his actions. He was just someone who’d gotten twisted up and made a series of increasingly horrible decisions. I knew it because of the way he fled. He didn’t cut through yards or scale fences. The entire time, he stayed on the sidewalk. What serious criminal does that? He was scared and he, too, resorted to an instinct bred into him by years of obeying—he ran down the sidewalk. Perhaps that’s overly generous . I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter what I think. He received the punishment the judicial system set out for him and he’s moved on, trying to lead a productive life. I wish him well.

As parents, we’re prisoners to our kids’ actions. No matter how well they’re raised, kids occasionally make poor decisions. We’re just hopeful that no one gets hurt in the process and any damage done is fixable. Most of the time they don’t go as far as this nightmare did, but we’ve all heard stories of the really dumb things kids do that land them in serious trouble. This story is just on the extreme end of that scale. This made me think differently as I watched the news or read stories about crimes. The circle of victims doesn’t just include those involved in the incident. The perpetrator’s family is also sucked into the wake of the event and its long-term complications.


In the first few months after the incident and the story spread, I found myself in conversations with many people about the incident. People who had also adopted children told me that the story exemplified their worst fears; that no matter how good they were at parenting their children, there was something innate, something deep inside the child they couldn’t manage. Something that might lead them to something like what I’d witnessed. Nature or nurture? Then there were those who focused on the fact that we had just moved to the area, looking for deep meaning in the linkage between our move to Beechwood and my being in the backyard that morning to hear the truck race down the street. Do you think that God put you there? Those and others are great questions. I don’t know that I’ll ever land on answers to any of them.

Many people have asked me why I ran toward the incident rather than toward the phone to call the police. That’s a question I’m ready to answer.

Without thinking about it, I’d helped two people avoid a worse situation than each was currently in, which is why we’re here, isn’t it? If you’d have seen it, you’d have done the same thing. I hope that if it was my kid lying there, you’d step in.

Everyone is someone’s kid.

Let’s play “Name That Leader!” 

April 3, 2017

The President of the United States recently met a foreign leader. To leader of which country did he say the following?

“We agree on so many things. I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind [you]. [You’ve] done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind [your country] and the people of [your country]. The United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing.”

Is it: 

A) England, our longest, strongest ally?

B) Germany, the economic power of Europe and a bulwark against Russian intervention and actively leading in humanitarian aid in the Syrian refugee crisis?

C) Egypt, a country ruled by a tyrant who has actively repressed its people?

D) Myanmar, ditto?

The very depressing answer is C. 

Not only did he not say anything like this to England or Germany, he refused to shake German Chancellor Merkel’s hand and, said that wasn’t insulting enough, handed her an invoice for $374 billion, marking the amount of Germany’s NATO shortfall. Nice guy. Classy guy. Our guy. 

Oh The Places They Go

January 17, 2017

In the days before social media, the sharing of travel stories with those who’d appreciate the absurdity meant sending emails. They were typically filled with the kinds of things you’d expect (and now see all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram); problem passengers, annoying seat recliners, double-belters, drunks, delays, etc. Every once in a while there would be a celebrity sighting. Over time, the mundane parts of travel were skipped over, in favor of the notables met while on the road. After a while though, another evolution occurred. The focus became celebrities or notables encountered in the bathroom and whether or not they’d washed their hands before leaving. The emails were titled “Today in Celebrity Hand-washing” or something (more) clever.

I was able to contribute a few sightings to the group. I once saw Chris Farley inhale a Big Mac in the time it took me to put my bag in the overhead. I once had then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel a couple of rows ahead of me. I tried to catch him for the sole purpose of having him tell me to “F(*& off,” and flip that chopped off middle finger at me. He was famous for being oh-so willing to do so, and I wanted to join that (non)exclusive club. Alas, he was too fast for me. US-POLITICS-HOYER-DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS

I sat next to U.S. Senator from Colorado Ben Nighthorse Campbell on a flight to Denver. Being a close follower of politics, I knew Senator Campbell had recently switched parties, but I couldn’t remember in which direction. He was traveling without staff and was willing to talk to me, so I structured my questions so that his answers would help reveal whether he was now a Republican or a Democrat without me having to embarrass myself and ask him.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell (L) with another notable Republican.

Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R) with another notable Republican

By the time we landed, I knew something that few others did, that Senator Ben wasn’t going to run for re-election in 2004. Since social media hadn’t been invented yet, spreading that around would have been a challenge, so his secret was safe with me.

There were two incidents I think about often, one very troubling and one inspiring. On a flight into Westchester County, I found that then-Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy was sitting a row in front of me (he in the last row of first class, me in my favorite bulkhead aisle seat).

Somebody sanitize that ball!

Wearing his Nazareth College sweatshirt, he walked off the plane about three people ahead of me and headed directly into the very tiny men’s room just outside the gate area. Though it was crowded, the need to fill in my travel buddies with an installment of “Today in Celebrity Hand-washing” meant that I monitored his use of the sink. From that day to this, every time I see Van Gundy on television shaking hands congratulating another coach or a player, I think of him exiting that bathroom in 2001 without a stop at the sink.

But the money story happened in late 2005/early 2006. I was in New York, trying to fly home on a Friday night through La Guardia. My flight had been cancelled and I was struggling for options. I finally found a seat in first class on a United flight. I don’t usually pay to ride up front, but the extra $100 seemed like a better deal than a Friday night in a Manhattan hotel room and a Saturday flight home.

I boarded late so most everyone else was already onboard and seated. I stowed my gear and settled into my aisle seat. Across the aisle, I saw then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama was sitting there. Having won one of the most interesting and bizarre senate races I’d ever seen, and coming off of his national launching pad with his keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, he was well-known to me. There’s was already talk that he was the rising star of the party and might run for President one day.

I’m old-fashioned and think that those in public service deserve not only our respect but our gratitude. When the flight attendant came by to take our drink/meal order and butchered the Senator’s name (not the first time, I’m sure), I made a point of telling him that the name of the United States Senator sitting in row 4 was pronounced “oh-BOMBa.” I don’t talk on airplanes (I’m not proud to say that I’ve feigned deafness to avoid conversation with an over-served elderly woman), so I left the Senator alone. He and I each plowed through our piles of magazines in peace until we arrived at O’Hare and stood up in the aisle. As he put his suit jacket on I noticed that his lapel was upturned in the back. I pounced. “Let me get that for you,” I said. “We can’t have the next President of the United States walking off this plane looking like that.”

“Thanks,” he said. “My wife usually takes care of that for me.”

We chatted a bit as we waited to deplane. While talking, I began dialing my cellphone like a mad man, hoping to get my wife on the line and hand the phone to the Senator so she could speak to him. In retrospect, I should have handed him the phone to leave her a message, but at that point, things were going well and happening quickly, so I wasn’t thinking quite as clearly as I would later when I regretting not giving him the phone. As we walked up the jetway, I wished him well and peeled off to call the office and get my ride home. The next stop for me was the men’s room, where I encountered Senator Obama in the nearly empty room. Keeping appropriate distance from where he was standing, he noticed my presence and re-engaged. We talked for a moment about something I’d seen in the New York Times and he gave an appropriately pithy response as he moved toward the sink and proceeded to thoroughly…wash…his…hands. Whew! Thank goodness. I wouldn’t have been able to get over it if that had gone the other way. I couldn’t imagine an elected official, someone whose job description includes meeting and greeting constituents, most often with a handshake not taking care to wash up.

You may have noticed that all the stories above are a bit dated. You may wonder why I’ve taken so much of your time tonight reliving these stories. Aside from the Administration I correctly foresaw two years ahead of time is now only days away from ending, the flashbacks were driven by something very tangible today. The item nearby crossed my Twitter feed earlier today.

Excerpt from "The Art of the Deal" by Donald J. Trump

Excerpt from “The Art of the Deal” by Donald J. Trump

In it, the man less than 100 hours away from becoming the 45th President of the United States brings forth his inner 9-year old, by sharing that he trolls his marks by not washing his hands. How nice. How, as he would say, “classy.”

But as the other nearby picture would show, there seems to be a bit of a problem. It looks like those dirty hands are occasionally used for purposes other than shaking the hands of people over whom Don wants to assert his dominance.

Oh dear God.

Oh dear God.

And now all I’ll think about when I see him put his left hand on the bible and raise his right hand to God as he takes this nation’s most sacred oath is that he’s likely not washed his hands. Congratulations, Mr. President-elect. We are off to a great start.

Lawrence Kudlow, dreamer

December 28, 2016

Kudlow, a non-economist media pundit with a memory short enough to not remember Enron, WorldCom, Countrywide, Kozlowski (Tyco), Phar-Mor, Parmalat, Adelphia, Global Crossing, the LIBOR scandal, the mortgage frauds…thinks the rich don’t steal. How quaint.

Ellsberg vs. Snowden

December 22, 2016

A really excellent article about the fundamental and wide differences between Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden

In briefing Kissinger in 1968 about what it’s like to have security clearance, Ellsberg writes:
“You will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn’t, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn’t even guess.”

This is why I tend to give Presidents wide latitude in their foreign policy decision-making. They simply have more facts (and access to more informed opinions) than I, the writers of the articles I read, more than the participants on the programs I watch, and more than even the senior congressional leadership. That’s not to say they’re right all the time, but I’ve just convinced myself that, for decisions that I don’t quite understand, there’s more going on than the people informing me know about.

Another reason Gladwell’s article appeals to me (and I’m a much bigger fan of his magazine work than I am his books), is in his depiction of Snowden. I would never characterize what Snowden did as heroic or whistleblowing. He was a disgruntled, unsatisfied worker who disagreed with policy and found the means to blast it out to the world, regardless of the harm that would do.

It’s worth a read.

Taiwan Weekend

December 5, 2016

First came Friday and word that PEOTUS Trump had phoned the leader of Taiwan, in contravention of four decades of U.S. policy. My initial reaction was something short of shock and dismay. I braced for the inevitable adverse reaction from old foreign policy hands both here and overseas. It was the kind of thing I had feared might happen.

The more I thought about it, though, the more comfortable I became with it–up to a point. I was not unhappy that the Chinese had been tweaked, for they’ve been tweaking the West with increasing frequency and seriousness over the last few years. Building islands as naval bases in the South China Sea, among other things, is not the act of a docile partner. As I have very little comfort with his decision-making process, finding it impulsive and prone to the advice of the last person he speaks with, I feared that the call had come without real understanding of the prior policy he’d just breached and the implications of his action. Did he even know he’d tweaked Beijing? If such behavior were to be continually repeated, the potential chaos in its wake would create a level of instability that may make it hard for the world to function (the business world and the governing world).

That was Friday and into Saturday. As Sunday dawned and newspaper consumption started, I actually felt much better. The NYT reported that the returned call was no accident, and that the PEOTUS was aware of the novelty of his actions. The desire to disrupt isn’t limited to domestic issues, and that’s not by definition bad. It’s just different. So long as it’s been thought through (which is where my concerns about the incoming Administration really start), I’m fine with different. While there will likely be plenty of things I disagree with this Administration about, this is not one of them, based on what we know about the episode.

Thursday Observations

December 1, 2016

The Trump Administration will be for Ethics lawyers what Dodd-Frank was for compliance departments in banks. Full employment opportunities await.

In a short time, Consititutional lawyers will feel exactly like the guys I knew who got their graduate degrees in tax in 1985, just before the Tax Reform Act of 1986 was passed, negated vast sections of their knowledge. The constitutional principles they’ve spent their lives studying will be quaint and historical and mostly worthless.

The quadrennial Harvard forum featuring the managers from both presidential campaigns tonight served to highlight not just the ugly bitterness of those on the Clinton side, but the unattractive smugitude of Trump’s team. Read about it here.

I’ve worked in an environment that was totally disrupted–the mortgage finance business in 2005-6. My boss at the time told me that there were about 10 things that would always be true about the business. As the financial crisis unfolded, one by one, the rules that he told me to count on fell away, leaving behind complete uncertainty as to what would happen next. It was as if the Law of Gravity had been repealed. It took a while to adjust to, but once you started asking yourself, “Why can’t that happen?,” it became easier to handle. The mental linkage to the old rules proved the biggest obstacle to navigating the disrupted environment. Once you got your head wrapped around the fact that those rules no longer applied, it was much easier to let your mind wander to what might happen next and how to prepare and protect yourself (or the firm) from it. I’ve got the same feeling right now as I did then, as we watch the Trump Administration form and communicate with the public. The old rules don’t apply. Up is down; we’re in a zero G environment. For example: Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes said yesterday on WAMU’s Diane Rehm Show “Facts no longer exist.” I tried to listen to this three separate times, unable to continue the first two time, becoming sickened by the implications of the statement and the fervor of believe from its speaker.

The Trump Kleptocracy

November 29, 2016

Can those of us worried about the direction that the PEOTUS is leading us with his appointments, his choice of family members invited into diplomatic meetings, and his obvious lack of concern for conflicts and corruption keep the volume on the Outrage Meter at 11 for each and every event that provokes such emotion? Won’t the clapper on the Alarm Bell of Injustice simply wear out at some point? Won’t people simply stop hearing it?

Conservative writer Ben Shapiro thinks so. He recently appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources and said as much. Conservative writer and Twitter must-follow David Frum has repeatedly said that the little outrages are all a plot to distract people from the gigantic outrage of Trump’s use of the office to enrich himself. Keep your eyes off @realdonaldtrump and on the money.

We’re still just learning how to deal with this. It’s all new, but it’s going to get old very quickly.

There’s much to be concerned about, but the most egregious thing isn’t the railing against the cast of Hamilton. It’s the blatant shaking down of foreign governments, both where Trump has properties and where he doesn’t. It’s already been made quite clear to foreign leaders that Trump’s Washington and New York hotels are the places to stay when visiting the Administration. They do so for the same reason that I make sure I drink MillerCoors products when I’m out with their distributors, why I rented from Hertz when calling on Ford, and why I pick the hotel I do when calling on my hotelier clients. The fact that we know that the PEOTUS has already asked Argentina and Scotland for favors for his properties, and the Indian owners of a Trump-affiliated property are making much of their connection to Trump only make this worse.

Those Trump supporters concerned before the election about the potential for corruption with the Clinton Foundation remain strangely silent about these troubling facts.

At this point, all I’ve heard from my Trump-supporting friends is that I should, “Calm down. The Dow is up 3% and your taxes are going to be cut and companies will be repatriating billions in cash and everything’s going to be fine. Besides, he hasn’t done anything yet!” They offer no substantive defense of the (grossly inexperienced) nominees, his thin-skinned disposition, the social media distractions, the shakedowns, or the personal benefits being lined up.

On the plus side, I’ve learned the name of the clause in the Constitution relating to the personal enrichment of federal employees. It’s called the “Emoluments Clause.” Expect to hear more about this over the next little while.

I wonder if Trump’s strategy is the lay the ground rules now while still technically a private citizen so that everyone knows how to play the game, so that he doesn’t have to do anything shaking down after he takes the oath at Noon on January 20. Accrue all the benefits now, and harvest the rewards later. The damage is done. I doubt he’s thought it through that thoroughly. Based on his decision making pattern thus far, I’m expecting President Trump will govern by the “Seat of His Pants Doctrine.”

The League of Ordinary Nations has a new member. The Trump Kleptocracy reigns.

Undeserved Victories

November 23, 2016

Two stories in the news over the last 48 hours, which have a common theme. The Undeserved Victory.

First is Jared Kushner, First Son-in-Law-Elect and speculation that he might not have deserved his admission to Harvard. As you’ll read here, and here, it seems that Mr. Kushner’s grades and test scores were below the usual threshold for admission to that small school in Boston. This news leaves me just shocked, because I’m certain that each and every freshman before him met those standards and a school like Harvard would never, ever admit someone who didn’t meet their standards. Ahem. Right. This story should have fallen into the category of “dog bites man” and never made the “news,” but the public, never tires of a story of privilege and how they’ve been wronged by the rich and influential, even if that person is a Trump (by marriage). Since it reinforces the existing narrative, it gets airplay and column inches. An undeserved victory was achieved by Mr. Kushner. No doubt, the one of many.

Then we have the story of the Illinois state high school playoff game between Fenwick and Plainfield North. As you’ll read here, had the rules been correctly applied, Fenwick would have won the semifinal game and advanced to the final to play East St. Louis High. But it didn’t happen that way. PNHS was the beneficiary of the referee’s mistaken idea that the circumstances at the end of the period should result in an untimed down. There’s no such rule, but they gave PNHS such a play, and with it, they kicked the game-tying field goal, sending the game into overtime, which they eventually won. An undeserved victory.

In the week since this happened, there’s been much discussion here locally and later across sports-talk radio about how to resolve the situation. Fenwick has gone to court after the State’s high school sports ruling body, the IHSA said that there’s no provision for protest or reversal. It’s been suggested that Plainfield North simply admit that they unduly benefited and let Fenwick play in the championship game.

Without getting into the ethics of sports and whether a player in a game with outside officials has an obligation to correct an officials mistake (e.g., no Mr. Umpire, I was tagged before I got to the base and you missed it; No Ms. Referee, I last touched the basketball before it went out-of-bounds so it’s not our ball as you say), I have trouble with what’s been said and done. That Fenwick elected to take the case to a court of law suggests that a judicial remedy is the appropriate venue for a sports dispute. It’s high school football, for goodness sake, not a case involving the life or property of a citizen, which is what the court system is already overloaded handling. The law has long-ago established that clubs and organizations can establish their own rules and act accordingly and that the courts have no interest in injecting themselves into those disputes (see PGA Tour vs. Casey Martin, for example). Nevertheless, off goes the Fenwick high school administration, to get what glory there is to be had and right a most egregious wrong.

To suggest that PNHS relinquish its good fortune is to expect Jared Kushner to tell Harvard, “thanks, but no thanks.” Are we to assume that no child at Fenwick has ever received admission to a college based on a family connection or a sizable donation? Would Fenwick have suggested that such a child demur and reject the admission? Of course not. That’s not the way the world works.

Rightly or wrongly, our society is not a perfect meritocracy. LinkedIn exists for a reason; to help connect people to give them an advantage when seeking a job. This is how it is. It’s too bad that the officials screwed this up. They should lose their jobs over this–or be forced into some remedial rules education classes. It likely won’t be the last time these kids will be jobbed by The Man. The Plainfield North kids know they got away with something. As Luke said, “to whom much is given, much is required.” Let’s hope they take their good fortune and learn an appropriate lesson from it (especially when they inevitably end up on the receiving end).

One thing of which we are certain: Jared Kushner’s undeserved winning streak is just starting.

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