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.

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.

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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