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.

The Fallacy of Health Care “Uncertainty”

January 5, 2012

I was talking to a friend of mine for the first time in a couple of years yesterday. We used to work together and engage in lively discussions on the topics of the day.

My friend now finds himself involved in a small business. We talked of the differences between our old existence at a major corporation and how we thought about employee benefits versus his current thinking as a buyer of those services (and not simply as a consumer of whatever the HR department already purchased) and someone charged with watching every corporate penny.

The subject turned to health care.

My friend talked of an “almost universal hatred of Obama and the health care law” within the small business community that he knows. “The cost to hire new employees has gone through the roof and on top of that is all the uncertainty associated with health care.”

“Uncertainty?” I asked. “There’s no uncertainty.  The health care law has been enacted and is in effect. The only ‘uncertainty’ about the law is from Republicans talking about undoing it and repealing it,” I told him.

“Oh,” he said.  “I guess you’re right. I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

Well maybe you should from now on and stop complaining about problems that don’t exist, I did not add.

“It was good talking to you,” I said.  “I’ve missed our little chats.” And my chance to set you straight on what’s really happening.


Federal Tax Redistribution And Voting Patterns – A Study in Hypocrisy?

January 3, 2012

I saw the picture below yesterday. (I apologize that I can’t find the link to the article, but I saw it on The Economist.  If I find it, I’ll link to it.) It shows the differential between federal taxes paid and federal spending within each state. The green shades represent more paid in federal taxes than the state received in federal spending. Shades of red represent states that received more in federal spending than their residents paid in federal taxes.  That by itself makes it an interesting graphic. I have enhanced the chart by overlaying it with the 2008 election results.  States shown with a “O” went for Obama; those without designation went for McCain.

The Givers in Green, the Takers in Red

What you notice is that most of the states shaded in green (the “Givers”) went for Obama.  Voters in states that pay more into the federal government than they receive voted for a guy that some caricature (then and now) as a “socialist” and “redistributionist”–their words not mine. Said another way, those people who already have wealth redistributed away from them and toward those in other states voted against a guy that professed to want to reduce the size of the federal government and cut their tax bills.  Of the 22 green states, only four (Texas, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Georgia) voted for McCain, the professed tax-cutter and government-shrinker.

On the other side of the ledger are those states that are the Takers; those that get more from the federal government than they send in. These guys are already not paying their own way and benefit from the largess of the federal government.  There are 28 states than get more than they give. Of those, 18 of them voted for the Republican nominee.

Is this not biting the hand that feeds? If those states want the government to be smaller, I can think of 18 places to reduce the federal budget. But until you start paying your own way, don’t you owe it to those that are paying the bills to at least shut up?  This is like having your teenager tell you that the family wastes too much money dining out but then asks for money to go out for pizza with his friends.

As with many things, ’twas ever thus.

Policy Changes Under Two Presidents

July 25, 2011

Republicans get defensive when comparisons are made between President Obama and President Bush.  That is understandable.  The chart below appeared in yesterday’s New York Times, accompanied by an article entitled “How the Deficit Got This Big” by Teresa Trich.  Ezra Klein today points out today that much of what appears on President Obama’s side of the ledger represent temporary expenditures (g., e.the $711 billion of “stimulus spending” and the $425 billion of “stimulus tax cuts”) where as the largest items on President Bush’s side of the ledger (and what at least 2o sitting GOP senators and 100 GOP House members voted for) represent recurring expenditures (e.g., the wars, the Bush tax cuts, the Medicare Part D drug benefit which will go on in perpetuity).

Klein notes, “To relate this specifically to the debt-ceiling debate, we’re not raising the debt ceiling because of the new policies passed in the past two years. We’re raising the debt ceiling because of the accumulated effect of policies passed in recent decades, many of them under Republicans. It’s convenient for whichever side isn’t in power, or wasn’t recently in power, to blame the debt ceiling on the other party. But it isn’t true.”

Sad, especially given the behavior of the GOP during the debt ceiling crisis, but true.

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