I was in Washington DC to meet with members of Congress about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Over a thousand insurance agents were there to deliver a simple message, Market Stability. We were welcomed by some of our elected officials and ignored by others.
One morning Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) addressed our group. To be clear, I disagree with Mr. Kelly on almost every major issue. He talked about the Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership, started by his father, which he owns in Butler, a small town in western Pennsylvania. And as he discussed the difficulty of meeting payroll and the importance of employer provided health insurance, I realized that this man possessed great empathy. And that is our word for the day – Empathy.
Empathy allows you to not only hear the concerns and problems of others, but to actually give a damn. Empathy rounds the sharp edges of ideology. Empathy may be the first step towards finding a solution that serves more needs than just your own.
Empathy is not universal, even in the halls of Congress. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (A Better Way) and Representative Mark Sanford (The Appalachian Trail) are touting Obamacare replacements that disconnect health insurance from employment. Like plans from some representatives from Texas, their plans would limit, and eventually eliminate, the employer exclusion, the ability of employers to deduct health insurance premiums. The majority of privately insured Americans (non-government) get their coverage at work. This could negatively impact a lot of people. But would it hurt a Congressman from Texas or South Carolina?
According to the U.S Census Bureau, Texas still leads the country with the highest percentage of uninsureds. Texas was down to 17% in 2015. South Carolina, thanks in part to Obamacare, is down to 11%. You might think that these elected officials would be trying to make coverage easier to get, not harder. You’d be wrong.
** ** ** ** ** **
The client wanted to talk. In truth, he is a nice guy who attends Mass daily and means well. And he was in pain. Sitting in my office yesterday, Anthony told me about his sister, now in her late fifties, who once had an abortion. He told me about his brother who is gay. And he told me that even though they were all close growing up in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, neither of them are talking to him since the election. At first they only wanted to argue with him over his support for Trump. And now they aren’t talking at all. They didn’t even come over for Christmas. Sure, in his heart of hearts, Tony is convinced that they (and me) are doomed to eternal suffering in the pits of Hell, but he couldn’t understand why his brother and sister would no longer spend time with him. Perhaps it was the constant judgement. Maybe it was the fact that he refused to accept that there were other options. Or it could be his lack of empathy. And Empathy was the word for the day.
Republican friends used to complain about the liberal hatred of President George Bush. Not me, per se, but Liberals. They would point to Molly Ivins’ book, Shrub, and accuse all Democrats of blinding hate. The funny thing was that I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone that hated George Bush. Don’t get me wrong, I knew/know lots of people who didn’t respect him and plenty of people who questioned his intellect, preparation, and even his 2000 election. But hate? No. George Bush wasn’t big enough to hate. You could dismiss him and vehemently disagree with every decision he/Cheney made, but you couldn’t hate him.
And then we got President Barack Obama. And with him we got a true understanding of the word hate. Many of my friends and readers have spent the last eight years referring to the sitting president as Hooosein, Obummer, and worse. Actually much worse. Nice people, educated people, people who should KNOW BETTER questioned every aspect of the man and his family. We seldom saw anyone attempt to debate policy. Instead there was a barrage of insults dealing with religion, gender, species, loyalties, and education. And it has not ended. Just a few weeks ago Trump ally and former New York gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, proved again the ugliness of pure hatred.
I noticed how hatred consumes people. By the way, please don’t point to the Republicans in Congress like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and say that they have profited by their hatred of Barack Obama. Grow up. McConnell and Ryan don’t hate Obama. They are just two of the most incredibly cynical, intellectually dishonest people to have ever roamed the halls of Congress. This is all a game to them. And riling up the masses is just one more move on the chessboard. They don’t hate, but maybe some of you do.
I watched people that started every conversation by cursing Barack Obama. It became their entire focus. Every Facebook post and every tweet was just one more insult normally drawn from an unending source of memes from places that seemed familiar. And when their friends pointed out that the story or picture was fake, they became defensive. “Who is Snopes to say that this is false?” And as friends, family, and business associates abandoned them they sought solace among those who harbored the same hatred. And it fed upon itself and just increased their alienation.
And now we have President Trump.
Salena Zito of The Atlantic covered a Donald Trump speech in September. After a particularly fact-challenged presentation she noted:
It’s a familiar split. When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
And we were all wrong. We needed to take Donald Trump both literally and seriously. As Saturday proved, more than a few people have decided that what he plans to do and the team he is assembling are not what we had anticipated. Less than a week into the Trump presidency and I have already seen hate. IT IS TOO EARLY FOR HATE. We cannot let ourselves get dragged into that hole.
- Fight for your values.
- Stand up for your beliefs.
- Argue policy.
- Challenge the politicians and ignore the wife and 10 year old. Really, if he is half the jerk you think he is, they are already paying a ridiculous price.
It has only been a few days. We are going to need to organize. We are going to need to find real leaders, preferably under age 60, to right this ship. Every moment given to Mr. Trump’s ego and small crowds is a moment given to the Ryan / McConnell legislative agenda. We don’t have the time or luxury for emotional outbursts. And we don’t need to be consumed by hate.
2016 is finally in our rearview mirror. It is time to crown the new winner of my quadrennial contest, Everyone’s A Genius In Hindsight. A quick recap – You were given the chance to impress your friends and wow your coworkers by predicting the outcomes of major contests in 2016. This year’s version included:
- The Republican presidential nominee
- The winner of the presidential election
- The winner of the Ohio Senate race
- The Super Bowl winner
- The number on Indians regular season wins
- The number of Browns wins
- The Academy Award for best picture
- The Dow Jones closing on December 30th
- The number of Supreme Court justices at year’s end
- The price of a gallon of milk mid-summer
As always, there are far more pundits, market timers, and general know-it-alls than participants. I had 18 brave souls volunteer to lose the right to claim that they were not surprised by any of the shocking events of 2016.
This is a lot harder than it looks. Don’t believe me? How many can you answer now? The average contestant got two right. Two! No one correctly predicted the Super Bowl winner. And the closest answer for the number of Browns victories was the 4 that several of us guessed. I always include the Supreme Court question as an homage to Broadcast News. Four of us correctly guessed that we would only have 8 justices at the end of 2016. We might have 10 by the end of 2017.
Jim and Karl had the Dow at 19,500 and almost everyone thought that Rob Portman would be reelected. Only Sally had the Indians winning over 90 regular season games. She also had Trump as the nominee. Sally and four others tied for second at 3 correct. Allison won the tie breaker.
Our winner, and new champ, not only predicted that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, she was also the only contestant to pick him to win in November. Our winner also was also one of the three who expected Spotlight to with the Academy Award. The winner is TASHA!
For the purposes of full disclosure I also had four – Portman, Browns, Supreme Court, and the price of milk, but I can’t win my own contest. I hope that those who played (whether or not you submitted an entry) had fun and that more of you will consider participating three years from now.
And the tie breaker, what is Jack’s profession in the song Sweet Jane? Now Jack, he is a banker, but you knew that.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017. 4 AM
Pres. Jr. now on the board of American Widget. Super Innovative. Boeing should pay attention. @realPresidentTrump
The morning shows dutifully reported President Trump’s latest Tweet a few hours later. They did this daily. The usual lawyers, pundits, and good government types bemoaned the obvious conflicts of interest. Speaker of the House Ryan issued a terse, “No Comment”. Senator McConnell just laughed as he walked past the press pool. The markets didn’t move. American Widget’s stock went up the week before when it had been announced that Donald Trump Jr. had been appointed to the board. This morning’s Tweet had been anticipated. A Boeing spokesperson announced that the company would be meeting with American Widget within the next week. “Promise!”
Friday, May 12, 2017. 3:45 AM
Jerold’s new catering company, Kushner Katering- HUGE! All of the embassies of our TRUE Friends love him. @realPresidentTrump
The repetitive nature of the reporting and the banality of the heavy-handed self-dealing became nothing more than background noise. All visiting dignitaries stayed at the Washington Trump Hotel. Attendees at White House dinners all seemed to wear Ivanka’s jewelry, many purchasing the pieces directly from her. It is all transparent. It is all out in the open. We have surrendered the public good for a very, very limited private good.
Oh yes, I am tired of winning.
We were told that the Trump presidency would operate in this fashion. The Democrats warned us prior to the election. The Republicans celebrated it after. Sean Spicer, the National Spokesman for the Republican National Party, noted in early December that Trump would be the very model of transparency.
“Conflicts of interest arise when you’re sneaky about it, when you’re shady about it. If you tell everyone, here’s what’s going on, here’s the process, here’s the people who are playing a role, that’s being transparent.”
And that is my problem. I keep thinking that it is 2017, and it isn’t. We are living in New York City. The year is 1905 and we are under the thumb of Tammany Hall. Sean Spicer was providing the up to date definition of Honest Graft. Donald Trump is the ultimate George Washington Plunkitt. Welcome to the Trump Kleptocracy.
There was talk prior to the election that Trump admired Putin. Who knew that it was Putin’s ability to enrich himself at his people’s expense that Trump envied?
Joe Jackson gave us a song about immortality. In The Man Who Wrote Danny Boy, the artist doesn’t try to make a pact with the devil to live forever, but to achieve immortality through his music, to be remembered forever. We lost two artists in the last week who had achieved that immortality, two mortals who will live forever.
In this week of loss I found myself comforted by the music of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell. And covers. Gosh I have heard more Leonard Cohen covers in the last week than one normally experiences in an average year. And each was better than the last. The most notable may be the Kate McKinnon cathartic rendition of “Hallelujah”. My favorite has been Daniel Kahn’s version in Yiddish. I’ve listened to it daily.
And Leon? It is difficult to grasp how important Leon Russell was to popular culture over the last 50 years. He played with everyone. But a melody? Listen to David Sanborn and George Benson as each perform Leon’s “This Masquerade”. For many of us though, Leon doing Leon was always the best.
This is a post about covers and music that will live forever. Below are a few of my favorite covers in no particular order. Each honors the original author and yet adds something new and original to the performance. I hope that you will enjoy the links.
All Along The Watchtower The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Rock ‘N’ Roll Detroit
Take Me To The River Talking Heads
Gimme Shelter Grand Funk Railroad
Me and Bobbie McGee Janis Joplin
Lake of Fire Nirvana
Proud Mary Ike and Tina Turner
With a Little Help From My Friends Joe Cocker
Time to recover,
The Indians have won the American League pennant! We’re going to the World Series! I am reminded of another time that the City of Cleveland celebrated a championship team. The following was published in October 1997.
I’ve had some interesting clients. I’ll never forget the day I saw on TV the breaking news of an FBI raid on one of my guy’s warehouses. Turns out he was the national treasurer of the Hell’s Angels. Who knew? But none of my clients are scalpers. My friend Morris knows scalpers.
Morris and I were on East 9th Street looking for tickets for the third game of the World Series. “Need two”, Mo or I said as we mingled with the pre-game crowd. Sometimes a guy would stop and offer us a pair. “I got a pair. $500.” There were lots of pairs at the $500 to $600 range. We, however, weren’t interested.
We had started at Tower City and walked through the RTA tunnel to the WKNR booth and now to 9th. We worked our way up to Euclid and then back down the other side. We let it be known that we wanted tickets, but that we were willing to wait till after the game started to get our price.
At E. Bolivar we were approached by a short, Black man wearing a patch over his left eye. We said that we were looking and he said that he knew someone who might have some tickets. Morris realized that we had finally found a runner and asked him “is Blood around?”
Now two Jewish guys asking for a scalper named Blood is like a couple of guys from Bay Village wandering through Cedar Center looking for Moshe. Patch said “Who?” Morris, unflinching, said “Blood. You tell him I’m here and that I need to see him.”
Blood appeared five minutes later. Thin, Black, and wearing glasses, Blood could have been just another guy wading through the crowd on his way to the rapid and eventually home. No Indians’ apparel. None. He recognized Morris at once and told us that he would take care of us. That was at 6:30.
The scene on the street was like a bad cop show. For the next hour and a half we watched a lot of money change hands. Some of the scalpers were amateurs. Some pros. The police made a show of breaking up the “ticket mall” by bringing in two squad cars, two motorcycle cops, and three on horseback. The amateurs quickly left, most of them selling their tickets to the pros. The pros, knowing that the motorcycle and horse patrols wouldn’t stay, held their ground. Within ten minutes the only police presence was a car with two cops animatedly talking to themselves and a pair at the crosswalk working hard on their imitations of Sargent Schultz.
Blood would stop by regularly, confer with his runners, and assess the business. He told them not to worry about the cops that were left. “They’re cool” he said. And he made a point of letting us know that he was working on our behalf.
We had decided that $100 a ticket was our limit. Some of the other scalpers and runners scoffed at our number. The transactions increased as the game approached. Getting desperate, guys who said that they would only spend $125 were forking over $150 to $175. $250 tickets were coming down to $200. This is how TV depicts a drug deal. It was pretty amusing. I told Mo that it reminded me of the old Lou Reed song. “I’m just waiting for my man”, I sang in a low voice. Morris laughed. We held firm.
One of the scalpers, a big man wearing a bright blue Indians’ poncho, tried to make the sell. “Maybe you should just go home and watch the game on TV”, he said. “I’m going to get my price”, I replied, “or someone’s going to have a nice souvenir to hang on their wall!”
The first pitch was thrown and Blood came up to the group waiting by the corner. “Who wants into the game? Follow me.” He grabbed Morris and we headed for the door of the restaurant. “How much? How much?” The crowd wanted to know. “$150 to $200”. “I got $100”, one guy yelled. “Stay outside”, Blood growled and kept moving towards the door.
The door was opened by a security guard and we filed into the restaurant. Blood stopped by the bar to negotiate with two sellers by the TV. I saw Sheffield hit his homer. We proceeded to the back. The first guy gave him $300 and was rewarded with two seats in right field. On our way to the back I had slipped Morris my cash. He gave Blood the $200. He picked out two seats for us. We thanked him and quickly left.
So where did we sit? Third base, upper deck, Row E. We were in $50 box seats. Not bad. The game, until the ninth inning, was pretty good. The fact that we were at a World Series was memorable. But the way we got in may have been the best part of the whole evening.
We were in Great Neck, Lon Gisland! Neither Sally nor I had ever been to this area of New York. We were there for a wedding – Adam Shafiyan and Sarah Noble. It was a wonderful, traditional wedding and we were honored to have been invited.
This post is not about Great Neck or the wedding. It is about what I experienced during the wedding reception.
As I said, it was a lovely wedding quickly followed by a lavish reception. The seven member band played traditional music as the couple entered the room. The dancing, men with men / women with women, was joyful and energetic. I participated for quite a while. There was mixed dancing to a wide variety of cover songs after dinner.
Sally and I were dancing. She was wearing an evening gown. I was in a tux, and yes, I was starting to shvitz. The music was familiar, a mix of songs that could have been played at any Bar Mitzvah, wedding, or graduation party.
One song led directly into another. The band was excellent and the crowd was ready to party. The bride and groom are in their mid-twenties and they, and dozens of their friends, were all on the dance floor. Some of the older guests drifted between the dance floor, their seats, and the open bar. We danced.
As the music got a bit faster I became aware not just of our dancing, but of my adrenaline surging and of a sensation of strength that I had not felt in months. I realized what I was feeling was a return of me. I’ve not felt like me in an awfully long time.
Whether you are fighting to overcome a physical setback like me (cancer) or the emotional devastation of divorce or the death of a loved one, it is not unusual to feel personally lost. You may try to power your way through. At some point, it may even appear that loss, that numbness, might be the new normal, might be permanent. Sunday night, on a dance floor, I briefly saw/felt the old me.
I missed him. I hope to see him again soon.
I have friends who are Conservatives and friends who are Republicans. Most of my Conservative friends vote for Republican candidates, but not all straight-ticket Republican voters are actually Conservative. Many are simply anti-Democrats. They may be able to espouse the appropriate Conservative talking points, but if push comes to shove, they will vote for any R regardless of the candidate’s policies or positions. The exact same can be said for Liberals and Democrats. I expect a certain amount of squealing over this assertion, but a quick look at your Facebook timeline should confirm my statement.
Having stated the above, I have been trying to avoid the Facebook political posts from my Republican friends. The memes are bereft of wit or humor. At some point it is just boring. And by the way, there really is nothing amusing about any presidential candidate suffering from dehydration and feeling woozy. But that’s just my opinion.
I’ve known Jack (name changed) for over ten years and was pleased to accept his Facebook friend request in 2011. Jack lives in another part of our country, believes passionately in the Second Amendment, and is an honest to goodness Conservative. Other than our love of country, there is very little we have in common. I disagree with most of his posts, but I try to read as many as possible, if for no other reason than to understand a different point of view. I have several friends like Jack. Some live as close as Shaker Heights.
This brings us to something Jack shared a few days ago. The post, an article from the National Review, was entitled Yet Another Campus Speaker Disinvited in the Name of ‘Tolerance’. I had a moment, and because the post was from Jack, I followed the link and read the article. The writer slammed the NYU medical school for disinviting James Watson, the famous biologist who was one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA. The reason? “Watson has said some controversial things in the past”. That’s it according to the author, Jason Richwine. Mr. Richwine’s article is about political correctness, the foolish claims of tolerance, and the value of FREE SPEECH. Comparisons to Soviet propaganda are a key part of his article.
I confess that I was confused. First, the DNA thing was in the early 50’s and I knew that he got a Nobel Prize in the 60’s. I didn’t know he was still alive. Second, it has been 50 -60 years, if he was still around what would he add to the conversation that these students wouldn’t already have read? So, I didn’t know why he was invited, but more importantly, I couldn’t imagine why he would be disinvited and why it would have anything to do with tolerance.
The comment section of the article was the first clue. And that is the purpose of this blog. Mr. Watson has a history of bigoted comments. Many of them are centered around a belief that Sub-Saharan Africans are inferior. He has been quoted as saying, “(I am) inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa (because) all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all testing says not really.” There is more and his opinions on obesity and others dissimilar to himself are equally shocking.
Where do we draw the line? Was NYU stifling free speech? Was it important to expose the NYU medical students to a man who said, apologized, and said again any number of racist statements? Or is this more of an example that one cannot falsely shout fire in a crowded theater? Of course, the other obvious question is why James Watson was invited in the first place. Was it to embarrass the university? Was it to provide a hatemonger a forum to spread his ideas?
Some of my Conservative friends, in the defense of free speech, believe that someone like Watson should be allowed to speak. Inappropriate comments are destroyed by the bright light of observation. All we need to do is give every bigot, every racist, every anti-Semite a megaphone and the absurdity of their baseless hatred will reveal itself to their ultimate shame. Yeah, right.
Whether it is the idea that the Mexican government is intentionally shipping us all of their rapists and murderers, or the terrible anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti-gay, etc.… that fills the internet, megaphones seem to encourage, not discourage, the spread of hatred, half-truths, and absolute lies. I’m tired of providing the megaphone. I’m tired of the abuse.
I don’t know why James Watson was invited or disinvited to NYU. I honestly don’t know where to draw the line. I am tired of hearing people yell FIRE.
There is a real value in Yes, in being positive, in Hope. John Lennon talked about this as he described how he met Yoko Ono. He attended one of her exhibitions and enjoyed the humor of her work. He approached one piece with a certain amount of trepidation. He had to climb a ladder and look through a magnifying glass to see the painting / message on the ceiling. He was worried that it would be “No” or worse. But it wasn’t. The word was “Yes”. It was that positive message that made the difference.
Rabbi Greenberg delivered a sermon yesterday morning that claimed, in part, that Hollywood’s longtime focus on happy endings was traceable to the Jewish roots of the founders of the studios. Now I realize that leaders in all cultures sometimes sound like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, happy to claim every invention or cultural advancement, but he may be on to something. So much of Judaism is about overcoming odds, of the weak prevailing over the seemingly strong, of knowing that there is a Promised Land and that the Children of Israel were going to get there eventually. Passover is the retelling of the exodus from Egypt, the celebration of freedom from slavery. And though a certain amount of Jewish humor is self-deprecating and sardonic, there is always a happy ending. And there is always hope.
I received an email from a friend a few days ago. The subject line was “Your thoughts” and the content was a link. My initial thought was that it was spam, but since he is a computer professional I quickly discounted that possibility. My second guess was that it was about health insurance and, since he is reliably Republican, how the system is on death’s doorstep. OK. I clicked the link. I wish I hadn’t.
The link took me to a smug, fifty-something, self-identifying Jewish guy who wanted to tell me to grow up and vote for Donald Trump and other Republicans. Yes, this would be the second worst link a non-Jew could send to a Jewish person. This is the equivalent of a white guy telling his African-American friends to grow up and vote Republican or me explaining to my Catholic friends why they should eat steak every night of Lent. You get the picture. I was more than a little offended. And that was before I saw the comments, like this one “Can you f*****g Jews just support Trump already? Stubborn kikes.” (edited) We all agree that sending this link was inappropriate.
The video was thirteen minutes of propaganda, half-truths, and absolute BS. But most of it wasn’t any worse than the usual memes and crap on Facebook. What was truly awful was the introduction. Mr. Smug began by declaring that Jewish Democrats and Jews of a liberal bent are more interested in Jewish things than actually being Jewish. Their Jewishness revolves around Seinfeld and corned beef. Ritualistically observant Jews, in his way of talking Real Jews, were already Republican. And that’s when I really got mad.
I know Jewish Republicans who don’t bother to go to synagogue on Yom Kippur and many who attend services daily. I can say the same about Jewish Democrats. There are 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). Not one of them speaks to political affiliation. Several, however, admonish us from speaking ill of each other, from gossip, and from slander. Loving one another, a positive commandment, isn’t predicated on one’s choice of presidential candidates.
There may be some reason to support Mr. Trump based on some interpretation of the Law. There may, but I have yet to see it. Mr. Trump doesn’t preach a Jewish message. His speeches are uniformly negative. When he tells communities that they are failing, that they live in danger, and finishes with “Choose me. What have you got to lose?” he is preaching hopelessness, not hope. Trump is the champion of fear, not courage. There is no comfort, just despair. An immigrant, probably illegal, is hiding behind every door ready to pounce and steal our country. That’s not positive and it’s not Jewish. Which is not to say that Jews shouldn’t vote for Trump. That’s not for me to say. Nor should anyone imply that a Jew, a Real Jew, should vote for him or anyone else.
Every Jew walked out of Egypt free, not just the Republicans, not just the ones who made light and fluffy matzah balls. It led to the ultimate happy ending. YES.
I had to be reminded that I have cancer. I really hadn’t thought about it in those terms. A friend of mine, a doctor, felt it necessary to tell me that yesterday. I had cancer. I have cancer. And I will continue to have cancer until it, or some other illness or accident, claims my life. Remission? I will never be cured. I may one day be told that my cancer isn’t expanding or easy to find. But, it will always be there.
Well that’s pretty bleak. We are not machines. I am totally aware that I will not live forever. I don’t think I would want to. But I think that hope is as important as oxygen. And at some point you have to have faith in the doctors, the hospitals, and the system to guide you towards a positive outcome. Even if a cure is not possible, relief from pain or an extra year or two might be. Maintaining one’s focus on those realistic outcomes seems to be more productive than wallowing in despair or anger.
You can’t un-hear a conversation. Or at least, I can’t. So I will move forward with the full undeniable knowledge that I have cancer. The important part of that last sentence isn’t that I have cancer. No, the most important words are that I will move forward.