Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving Blog

Now that Jennifer Grey is the champion on Dancing with the Stars and I don't have to rant and rave about the Palins, I thought I'd try pondering something a little lighter than usual.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving retains its majestic ability to unite family and friends while enjoying the chance to break bread (and wishbones) together. Thanksgiving causes us to pause and take measure of the blessings we share and the people in our lives we share the blessings with. Religious dogma and overbearing commercialism are largely absent from the Thanksgiving celebration. For an entire day, I am in a wonderful, reflective, contented mood, eager to share my high spirits with my loved ones and my liked ones.

This year, the celebration started a day early. Peter Porta and I had lunch together and I'm still giggling 8 hours later.

I am thankful that I met Peter in February, 1979. I was a new associate at the Larkin, Hoffman law firm working in the corporate department. Peter and his partner, Gene Morescki, operated an Olivetti dealership, selling and maintaining office equipment. In 1979, "office equipment" consisted primarily of typewriters. I was sent by my boss to meet Peter and Geno at their company, Calc-Type Office Equipment, Inc., to review an important contract they had called about. The encounter, taking place merely 6 weeks after commencing my career in private practice, launched a relationship that, despite current geographic separation, has remained steadfast for nearly 32 years.

I know that there was some concern on the part of my clients when we first met. They had been in business together since 1973 and had prospered. Peter was in charge of the service department; Geno was in charge of sales. Peter is Danish, having immigrated to the U.S. in 1965 to work for Control Data. He barely spoke English at the time. Geno is Italian, from Springfield, Illinois. A suburb of Chicago as Geno tells it. I was not yet 27. And I was there to tell them how to run their business.

Peter set the ground rules early on. When an "uhm" creeped into my vocabulary, he interrupted me. "No 'uhms'. I'm not paying for 'uhms'." He did it in 1979. He did it at lunch today. To make sure I did not take myself too seriously, Peter let me know that he was sure I had acquired my law license from an offer on a matchbook cover. Today, I made the same observation about his Coast Guard certification to pilot watercraft for hire. It was a memory thread that took us back to the beginning.

Peter is very proud of his Danish heritage and loved the fact that he had a Jewish lawyer. He grew up in Copenhagen during World War II and often related the story of the Danes standing up to the German occupiers, refusing to turn over Danish Jews to the Nazis. When I brought Peter to a friend's shop to purchase a new camera, Peter started haggling over price. A bit of an embarrassment, I pulled Peter aside. "I'm trying to chew him down on the price," Peter explained to me. He was horrified when I explained to him that the expression was actually "Jew him down" and was a slur related to a common stereotype of Jewish business practices. He had no idea. English was a second (or third) language; religious tolerance was part of his core.

Besides his liberal religious views, Peter acquired other skills on the streets of Copenhagen as a child. He is a master at sleight of hand and would often entertain me, other bar comrades and good-looking waitresses with tricks he learned as a coping mechanism during the Occupation. Quarters magically disappeared no matter how closely you watched what you knew was coming. Cigarettes rolled across high tops ahead of Peter's extended fingers despite the lack of contact. I was reminded of his remarkable talent today at lunch when he asked me to guess which outstretched fist held the Viagra he now needs to keep his girlfriend happy. One fist was clenched completely; one fist had a thumb pointing straight up.

Peter has always been an incurable flirt. I am not sure if it was/is the heavy Danish accent, the Viking physique, the infectious smile or the irresistible combination of bravado and self-deprecation, but he ALWAYS could have gotten the girl. I watched the master as countless beauties were asked if they were looking for a husband (or Sugar Daddy). If "yes", perfect. "I'm a husband (or Sugar Daddy)!" Peter would proclaim. If he noticed a guy hanging out in a restaurant/bar with more than a couple of women, Peter would interrupt the festivities to advise him that he wasn't being fair. "Some guys don't have any women and you have (fill in the number). You need to learn to share."

There are many Peter Porta stories that bring a smile to my face. Perhaps the most legendary are his encounters with the police involving his driving. Peter loved fast, European cars. He typically drove a big Mercedes sedan. And he drove it regularly to his boat moored in Superior, Wisconsin, a few hours north of Minneapolis.

Examples of Peter's bravado with the police:

1. Peter gets pulled over as he's leaving Duluth on Interstate 35W. "Mr. Porta," explained the officer, "the 55 mile an hour speed limit is designed to save lives." Peter responded, "why don't you just make people walk, then nobody would die?" "And right there", Peter explains to anyone hearing the story, "I knew I was in trouble."

2. Peter gets pulled over for speeding. The officer notices the radar detector mounted on the windshield. "Why do you need that?", asks the officer. Peter (I'll try to do the transliteration of his English): "Waall, I'm a faux'n'er in your country 'n' I'm always gettin' lost. 'N' you guys ah always hiding behind billbods 'n' I cahn't find you. So I use dis detectah to find da police 'n' get help." The officer let him go without a ticket.

3. Peter gets pulled over for speeding. Officer: "Mr. Porta, do you know how fast you were going?" Peter: "This is a $40,000 Mercedes. They come with speedometers."

4. And my favorite. Peter was driving north on the freeway to Superior after work on a Friday evening. Cars were zooming by him but, nonetheless, Peter is pulled over for speeding. "Why are you picking on me?" Peter asked the officer. "Everyone is passing me!" The officer, who clearly had heard this question before, responded "Have you ever been fishing? You don't catch them all, do you?" Without missing a beat, Peter looked at the patrolman and told him, "No, but I throw back some of the ones I catch." The officer broke out in laughter and let Peter go without a ticket.

Peter lives in Johnson City, Tennessee now. He moved there from his first retirement home on Florida's Gulf Coast to get away from the hurricanes. At 78, he rides BMW motorcycles, touring the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail. He averages 4-5 years with each girlfriend before moving on to a new relationship that offers the physical passion his Viking blood needs to survive. It is likely significant that he remains friends with his old loves.

We sealed our own relationship permanently in 1982 when he watched his young Jewish attorney beat up on Olivetti Corporation during a business trip to Westchester County. After that, in Peter's mind, there was nothing I could not do. Olivetti no longer exists as an independent entity. Calc-Type is now C-T Technologies and continues to office out of the building Peter and Geno purchased along the forthcoming Interstate 394 in the early 1980's.

I'm not 27 anymore. I'm nearly 59. As I've expressed several times in earlier Prairie Pondering writings, I cherish the relationships I've been fortunate enough to establish over the years in so many different circumstances. The pure joy of reconnecting with Peter today reminds me of how lucky I am to have such a vibrant tapestry of friendships, experiences and opportunities.

Let's all enjoy Thanksgiving, 2010, and, for at least the day, focus on the wonders that abound in our lives, drawing well-being from all we have to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Broken: From Watergate to yellowcake

Emperor Bush was naked, folks. It's about time we admitted it and just dealt with it and its consequences.

Broken: From Watergate to yellowcake

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

For Special Friends of Rick

If you are not an animal person, don't read this. You would not understand.

We lost a member of the family tonight. Rick, our 27 year old Arabian gelding had to be euthanized. He was suffering from an intestinal blockage. After two days it was clear that it was not going to get better. He had developed several melanomas, not uncommon for white horses, and with no assurance that he would ever recover, it was time to relieve him of his pain and say "goodbye".

I have never written a eulogy to a horse before. But, as noted, Rick was a member of the family. We acquired him in 1990, just after Deb's first horse was kicked by another and was put down. Rick was 7, a spirited young gelding, with personality to spare and the ability to lift Deb from the emotional devastation of losing Aladdin's Glory.

Rick soon became Ellie's regular ride as she began her Pony Club career. The photos of Rick nuzzling Ellie when she was 4 and again when she was 13 are among my favorites.

In sixth grade, Ellie's best friend Laura Sedgwick was killed when her horse fell back on her during a weekly riding lesson. Ellie was not in the arena with Laura that Saturday morning; we were in South Dakota with Deb's parents for Easter weekend. After the incident, I asked Rick to take care of my baby and keep her safe. He agreed. I thanked him tonight for keeping his word.

Rick was everyone's favorite. He was so well-tempered and forgiving, novice riders and lifelong equestrians alike were comfortable with Rick. Jon Weiss' granddaughter makes an annual pilgrimage from Atlanta each summer to see and ride Ricky. When I put her on another horse in August, she'd have none of it. One of Deb's friends loved coming to Meadow Breeze Farm to saddle up Rick and take him trail riding with one of the boarders. She viewed it as part of her physical therapy. Rick was the horse visitors to the farm were given to ride. On the rare occasion when I partake, Rick was my mount.

20 years is a long time to spend with an animal. As I mourn the loss of Meadow Breeze Farm's senior resident, I take comfort from knowing that he was well cared for and greatly loved, which is all he ever asked for in return for his gentle demeanor and nurturing disposition.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hi, I'm a Tea-Partier

I am sorry I didn't post this a week ago. This is what we're dealing with.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We Had it Coming

The 2010 mid-term elections are pretty much over. As a Minnesotan, I am reminded of a joke I first heard 48 years ago, when I was 10 years old:

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
"Governor", who?
I don't know. I'm from Minnesota.

The race for governor will work itself out, although not before the Republicans drag out the recount in order to run the table in January when they control both houses of the Legislature and Governor Pawlenty remains in office as part of the State Constitution's mandate.

In the meantime, I thought I'd do a quick post-mortem on the mid-term results. A fraction of the voters who elected Barack Obama in 2008, expressed their frustration with the Chosen One's inability to snap his fingers and return America to the days of Bill Clinton and their record surpluses. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. We elected a community organizer with no executive experience to the highest office of the land in 2008 and failed to protest when he sat around the White House playing with his admittedly adorable children and his foreign-bred puppy.

Perhaps if he had at least tried to accomplish something in the first two years of his term, the electorate, which pays attention to such things and is prone to reward politicians who make an effort to address our challenges, would have rewarded him by supporting the Democrats who make up his team.

I searched and searched on the Internet, looking for anything that demonstrated that the President was not spending his days golfing. The results were pretty sad. This is all I could find:

1. Issued executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

2. Ended Bush administration’s CIA program of ‘enhanced interrogation methods’ by requiring that the Army field manual be used as the guide for terrorism interrogations.

3. Increased minority access to capital.

4. Established Credit Card Bill of Rights, preventing credit card companies from imposing arbitrary rate increases on customers.

5. Health Care Reform Bill, preventing insurance companies from denying insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

6. Health Care Reform Bill, allowing children to remain covered by their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.

7. Tax cuts for up to 3.5 million small businesses to help pay for employee health care coverage.

8. Tax credits for up to 29 million individuals to help pay for health insurance.

9. Expansion of Medicaid to all individuals under age 65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

10. Require health insurance plans to disclose how much of the premium actually goes to patient care.

11. Added $4.6 billion to the Veterans Administration budget to recruit and retain more mental health professionals.

12. Significantly increased funding for the Violence Against Women Act.

13. Lifted restrictions granting Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.

14. Eliminated subsidies to private lender middlemen of student loans and protect student borrowers.

15. Increased funding for national parks and forests by 10%.

16. Significantly expanded Pell grants, which help low-income students pay for college.

17. Expanded hate crime law in the US to include sexual orientation through the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

18. Provided stimulus funding to boost private sector spaceflight programs.

19. Appointed nation’s first Chief Technology Officer.

20. Signed financial reform law establishing a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look out for the interests of everyday Americans.

21. Signed financial reform law requiring lenders to verify applicants’ credit history, income, and employment status.

22. Signed financial reform law prohibiting banks from engaging in proprietary trading (trading the bank’s own money to turn a profit, often in conflict with their customers’ interests).

23. Signed financial reform law allowing shareholders of publicly traded companies to vote on executive pay.

24. Cut prescription drug cost for Medicare recipients by 50%.

25. Provided $12.2 Billion in new funding for Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

26. Extended Benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

27. Appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in U.S. history.

28.The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009: a $789 billion economic stimulus plan.

29. Created more private sector jobs in 2010 than during entire Bush years.

30. Voluntary disclosure of White House visitors for the first time in U.S. history.

31. Appointed first Latina to the US Supreme Court.

32. Promoted social responsibility through creation of, a national database of volunteer opportunities.

33. Reversed ‘global gag rule’, allowing US aid to go to organizations regardless of whether they provide abortions.

34. Signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, giving the FDA the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of tobacco for the first time.

35. Signed New START Treaty - nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia.

36. Increased average fuel economy standards from 27.5mpg to 35.5mpg, starting in 2016.

37. Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers.

38. Provided travel expenses to families of fallen soldiers to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover Air Force Base.

39. Reversed the policy of barring media coverage during the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base.

40.Launched to track spending from the Recovery Act, providing transparency and allowing the public to report fraud, waste, or abuse.

41. Provided the Department of Veterans Affairs with more than $1.4 billion to improve services to America’s Veterans.

42. Signed the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, which provides health care to 11 million kids -- 4 million of whom were previously uninsured.

43. Repealed Bush era restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

44. Signed the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, the first piece of comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the lives of Americans living with paralysis.

45. Developed stimulus package, which includes approx. $18 billion for non-defense scientific research and development.

46. Signed the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act to stop fraud and wasteful spending in the defense procurement and contracting system.

It's too bad. I had such high hopes in November, 2008, that we had elected someone who could do more than spend 33% of his time away from the White House relaxing at Camp David or on a ranch in Texas. Maybe things will get better when Governor Palin gets elected to the presidency in 2012.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Time's Up

I have been absent from Prairie Pondering for far too long. I apologize to any who care. I have not been silent for lack of opinions to express. Rather, I have been too demoralized by the hijacking of the democratic process since January, 2009 to find the will to express myself publicly.

I have sat mostly in silence while the GOP adopted a strategy of stonewalling any effort by the Obama Administration and its supporters in Congress to carry out the policies approved by an overwhelming majority of the American electorate in 2008.

I have stewed mutely while, for example, Commandant McConnell led the opposition to the President's announced plan to close the prison at Guantanamo, then belittled the Commander in Chief for his inability to get things done.

I have exercised my eyebrows and neck muscles, but not my typing fingers, listening to FAUX News and its anointed cadre of self-promoting political charlatans repeat one big lie after another with its intended effect.

Not tonight. Time's up. There's an election tomorrow and I cannot allow it to occur without encouraging my like-minded progressives to make the modicum of effort necessary to vote. I cannot allow the election to occur without expressing my sympathy to those drinking the FAUX-Bachmann-Palin-Hannity-Huckabee-Emmer (FBPHHE) Kook-Aid over the tragic loss of their common sense and their abandonment of logic in search of the quick fix.

To the progressives: Get off your butts and vote. He may have been ridiculed for saying it publicly, but Vice President Biden was right. Quit whining. Real life is not a one-hour television drama where the problem presented in the opening is resolved before the final credits roll. This country faces serious social and financial challenges that existed long before President Obama took office. There is no magic fix and, thank God, we elected a president in 2008 who makes it a habit to take the time, and has the mental capacity, to analyze a problem before pursuing a solution. When FBPHHE mock you for blaming President Bush and the Republicans after Democrats have been in office for so long, do not flinch. Blame away. With no meaningful defense for the way Bush/Cheney ran the country into the ground, FBPHHE has no choice but to ridicule those of us who continue to hold Bush/Cheney, and those who would return to their policies, accountable for the mess we are in.

To FBPHHE: Your mindless pursuit of derailing the Obama Administration and steadfast determination to oppose for the sake of opposition is traitorous.

You might hide behind your "America First" rhetoric. You might decry a declining labor market and long for a solution through good old American entrepreneurship. You might gloat over the effectiveness of scaring the electorate with the Big Lies of widespread voter fraud, workable alternatives to health care reform or the possibility of meaningfully smaller government. But the bottom line is that once you've succeeded in winning elections on the strength of inaccurate sound bites, corporate financed attack ads and frightening voters into mindless submission, you have an obligation to actually govern. To date, you have offered no viable solutions to the problems facing our nation.

As you've shown, you don't need a majority to control the flow of legislation. Democrats have NOT been in charge these past four years and if predictions about GOP success tomorrow prove true, FBPHHE will have taken on the moral obligation to participate in the process of solving what ails us. If instead, FBPHHE views the 2010 election as merely a stepping stone to the national elections in 2012 and continues to impede a functioning government, it will create a far greater danger to our children's and grandchildren's well-being than any downside resulting from President Obama trying to keep the economy and financial system from imploding. Hence, traitors.

Here's a link to a op-ed expression by someone making the same point, but who put more time into actually researching the threats we face.

Please vote on November 2nd.


Sunday, May 30, 2010


Sometimes things work out the way they should.

I was driving eastward this morning on Interstate 394. I was in the middle lane, traveling at about 60 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone. I noticed an unmarked police car stopped on the shoulder ahead on the right, signaling to return to adjacent the traffic lane. An SUV in the right lane ahead of me signaled to move into my lane to give the police car room to maneuver. I responded by moving to my left, entering the "Sane Lane" reserved for car poolers and transponder renters during the week. As I switched lanes, I arrived at the end of the access point and two double white line appeared on my right, together with the corresponding traffic sign admonishing me not to cross the double white line. The police car pulled out and remained about 4 cars back. I was relieved that he was not interested in me driving 5 m.p.h. over the speed limit.

Almost immediately thereafter, I noticed a black Cadillac CTS approaching me in the Sane Lane. It looked like one of the cars movie stars drive in commercials, fast, to convey how fulfilled you'd be if you were driving one, too. The driver behind me must have seen the commercials because, from the rate of his approach, he was traveling at more than 70 m.p.h. I make it a point not to cross the double white line or exceed 61 m.p.h. when I don't know if law enforcement is in the area. This morning, I DID know and maintained my speed and lane position as the CTS came up on my tail, probably frustrating him as he mocked my waste of of my sports coupe. Rather than ram me or slow down, the CTS switched into the lane to our right and passed me. I checked my mirror again and confirmed that the unmarked police car was still four cars back. :-)

Like a closer at Canterbury, the police officer sped up, gave me a look as he passed me on the right, positioned his car behind the CTS, turned on his lights and guided the CTS to a stop on the freeway's right shoulder. I assume the CTS received a speeding ticket. I hope that he was also, at least, warned about crossing the double white line. If you're in or next to the Sane Lane, having someone dart across when you aren't expecting it is like having folks running red lights as you approach on the green. In this case, the scenario played out like I thought it would as soon as I noticed the CTS coming up behind me. Sometimes things work out the way they should.

Sometimes things don't work out the way they should.

The drive this morning was to a cemetery in Edina to attend the unveiling of the gravestone of my departed friend, Tom Silver. Jewish tradition is to wait about a year after burial before putting up a gravestone. Although more than a year has passed since Tom's death, I haven't accepted the fact that he's gone. He and Rabbi Cohen and I celebrated our birthdays together each year. Tom's last steak and last scotch was at one such celebratory dinner a few days before he died at 67 years of age.

Tom was one of the smartest people I knew. We served on the new synagogue construction steering committee together; Tom was the chair. I covered for him at one meeting of the synagogue's construction contractors and was completely bewildered by all the complexity of the decisions that he regularly dispatched at the weekly gatherings.

Every year Tom raced a souped up Mustang in the PanAmerica Race up the length of Mexico. He always did well. In his last year of life, he won the race for the first time. It occurred to many of us that Tom figured he had nothing to lose by taking extra risks in that final race. Racing a road race in the Third World in his mid-sixties, he was already a legend on the circuit. Winning that last race gave him permanent legendary status.

The service at the cemetery was brief but touching. Brunch at the Silver household was bittersweet. On the surface, Tom's wife, son and three daughters appear to be doing well. But I couldn't help thinking that it was a gathering that was happening 20 years too soon. Sometimes things don't work out the way they should.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Say No to Socialism

Prairie Pondering blogs are automatically posted as Notes on my Facebook page and, particularly when politics are being pondered, generate quite a bit of discussion. This week's post of the "Yes We Can/Hell No You Can't" video generated quite a bit of discussion.

The following was submitted from the website by one of my more liberal friends, responding to concerns expressed by opponents of health care reform. It appeared on's site last August and, most likely, elsewhere beforehand. I think it is worth sharing as it reminds us that one of the reasons we like to believe we live in the greatest country in the world is that we receive, and take for granted, so many benefits only possible through the work of our local, state and Federal governments.

NO to Socialism!

"This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US department of energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provded by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the national weather service of the national oceanographic and atmospheric administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the national aeronautics and space administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of US department of agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the food and drug administration.

At the approrpiate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads built by the local, state, and federal departments of transporation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency. On my way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After work, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to a house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all it's valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the defense advanced research projects administration and post on and fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No You Can't (Featuring John Boehner)

This YouTube video expresses in a most succinct and eloquent fashion why we must rise to overcome the challenges of the mindless opposition to the will of the people proffered by Republicans in Congress.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pick Two

Sunday night I was privileged to attend a function at Bet Shalom Synagogue where NPR's Scott Simon was the featured speaker. Listening to Mr. Simon wax poetic about his experiences as a journalist, the people he has met, the places he has covered, and the success he has humbly achieved as a story-teller made me feel a little nostalgic for the days 40 years ago when I considered a career in journalism.

The consideration never rose to the level of a definite plan. But I was a vociferous reader and loved to write. I had spent three years under the tutelage of Hattie Steinberg, St. Louis Park High School's legendary journalism teacher who Tom Friedman of the New York Times eulogized as the only journalism teacher he ever had, "she was that good." I won a National Council of Teachers of English award, thereby cementing my acceptance at Carleton College. While, ultimately, I pursued a career where writing skills are important, there are times when I cannot help but reflect on the life I would have led if I had stuck to answering the who, what, why, where and when mysteries Miss Steinberg trained us to solve.

Prairie Pondering is a release for my writing. Few days pass where I don't think about writing another installment. Unfortunately, few days end where thoughts are committed to my Mac's hard-drive. Typically, the disconnect results from being overwhelmed by the choice of subjects and the desire to say something meaningful and defensible. Fluff pieces are easy, but a little too self-centered. If readers are going to take the time to allow me to share my thoughts, the takeback ought to include some modicum of enlightenment or, at least, a thoughtful discussion of an issue that matters. Writer's block ensues and my blog guilt blossoms.

Tonight is no exception. It is now after midnight and I should be sleeping. In fact, I am sleeping, from time to time as I write this. But the inspiration of Scott Simon, the historic nature of the passage of health care reform Sunday night, the addresses of Secretary of State Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the American Israeli Political Action Committee, the passage of the jobs bill, yesterday's observation of a Facebook friend that Michele Bachmann is "a black eye for Minnesota", the flooding down the road, and the pending return of outdoor Major League Baseball to Minnesota leads me to force myself to generate another blog installment.

Since twenty minutes has passed since I started writing the last paragraph, I will be efficient with the remaining hours of consciousness this evening (morning) and offer some thoughts that apply to nearly every challenge facing us today. I offer the lesson of "Pick Two."

More than one business client, either engaged in manufacturing, in sales or in providing a service, has applied the lesson of Pick Two to their commercial practices. It is a rather straight forward concept. When shopping for a product or a service, consider (a) high quality, (b) low price and (c) quick delivery. Pick two.

Invariably, one of the three options suffers at the expense of the other two. Let's apply it to health care. If I want to see my highly qualified primary care physician for the low price of my c0-pay, I'll have to wait to get an appointment. If I merely need a quick flu shot, at a subsidized price, I can go to a clinic at the local Walmart and receive the services of a less experienced medical practitioner who will, hopefully, have some knowledge in the use of a syringe. Finally, if I need an immediate consult with a physician specializing in what ails me, I may have to go outside my insurer's network and pay retail.

On a broader scale, we ALL want high quality, affordable health care. Under the rule of Pick Two, and as a matter of common sense, we cannot expect everyone to have instant gratification in their health care needs if quality and reasonable pricing are to be maintained. If our society continues to insist that every major hospital make the latest high quality technology available for every conceivable medical contingency (e.g., burn units and brain injuries) in order to facilitate quicker treatments and notwithstanding the competition operating similar facilities at 50% of capacity, it is going to be expensive. Hopefully, newly passed reform legislation will address such wastefulness. If so it will not be a "government takeover of health care" as much as a reallocation of limited resources and imposing brakes on the medical equivalent of an arms race.

The lesson of Pick Two applies to government services as well. When my barn starts on fire, I want a fire truck and personnel capable of handling the emergency at Meadow Breeze Farm as quickly as possible. That being said, it is going to be expensive. Someone has to pay for the purchase and maintenance of the latest equipment. Someone has to pay to support emergency service personnel. We can save money by scrimping on replacing equipment and/or cutting back on the size of the fire and police departments. That will reduce costs and leave me with either a prompt inadequate response (and a smoldering barn) or a slow comprehensive response (and a smoldering barn).

In the days, weeks and months ahead, when friends who do not share my admiration for the president and his administration challenge me on the wisdom of his policies, I will fall back on the lesson of Pick Two. This country voted for a new direction in 20008. Loudly. We were promised a change in the way government serves its citizens. Absent the political vitriol, we should be smart enough to realize that quick fixes are the antithesis of well-reasoned, high quality approaches to problem solving.

We should remember that difficulties that have developed over decades cannot be quickly and magically made to disappear. That means, under the lesson of Pick Two, we are going to have to spend some money. Not coincidentally, Republicans have been focusing exclusively on the cost of health care reform and the cost of the economic stimulus and the cost of repairing our infrastructure and the cost of converting to renewable energy sources. What they forget, and what I will remind my more conservative friends, is that if you take your time and purchase a high quality solution, you save money over the long run. And, most importantly, there can
be a long run.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Health Care Reform

A friend posted this link to a slide show on the current health care reform proposal expected to come to a vote in the House of Representatives. It's a good starting point for discussion. It ignores arguing for (or against) the reform by relying on derisiveness which, for me, is a nice change of pace.

There's been a lot of frenzy whipping going on, by both sides of the aisle, but, as always, I tend to support the arguments that don't rely on emotional flash points (e.g., "death panels", "Obamacare") to convince me of the merits of the argument.

Thoughtful persons and others, especially persons bent out of shape over the perceived lack of transparency in the process and the willingness of Congress to vote on a bill they have not read, should click here and read the bill pending before the House. With respect to transparency, as I explained to a very close friend, long-time client and conservative businessman this week, there's never been a more transparent process. The very fact that the whole country is in a position to offer their opinion on how the process has worked, which constituencies received special consideration in return for their representatives' support, who is and who is not supporting the reform (and why or why not) demonstrates that absolute transparent manner in which the legislation has evolved. You want more transparency? Win an election and attend the meetings yourself.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Birthday Pondering

The clock is about to strike 12, at which point I will have reached 58 years of age. The congratulations have been pouring in from family and friends all over the world since last weekend when I posted a photograph online of my close friend Greg Kellenberger and me holding candlelit desserts at the end of our annual celebratory dinner.

I've heard from Nathaniel Davis in Beijing and from Bob Levine off the coast of Brazil on a cruise ship. I've heard from cousins in California, a former girlfriend in Denver, law school classmates in Washington, D.C., family in the Twin Cities, Connecticut and Arizona. Rabbi Cohen sent me an e-card, saying nice things about me that I don't deserve. Jessica Applebaum called today because she'll be out of town tomorrow. My "brother" Bruce Mandel and I will exchange greetings on Tuesday as we have on every March 16th, our mutual birthday, since we were 3 years old.

I am one lucky S.O.B.

I'm on the backside of the mountain and, like everyone else, have no idea how steep the descent that lays before me. Yet, strangely, the contentment I feel at having had the privilege of being part of so many disparate lives, and making enough of an impression to warrant a gesture of goodwill each year, overcomes any anxiousness inherent in the realization that there's a fairly large mound of sand at the bottom of the clock.

I picked the wrong Powerball number, again, on Saturday so I have no plans of early retirement. But as I hear from so many dear, dear friends and loving family members, I realize that a more robust bank account hardly matters. Each phone call, e-mail, text message and Facebook posting is a trip down memory lane and an opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary times I've shared all over the world.

Thanks to all for the gift of sharing yourselves with me. Thank you for making me more tolerant by showing me the good in you I might otherwise miss during our fervent political debates. Thank you for indulging my delusions of artistry as I impose my writing and my photography on you. Thank you for trusting me to find solutions to your challenges, whether on a
pro bono basis or at my regular obscene hourly rate. Thank you for caring enough to touch base and help me appreciate the magnificence of our connections and the shiny bow of memories yet to be made.

Here's an appropriate image for today's pondering. I was going to post it in my "Photo of the Day" Facebook album, but it seems better placed here. It's entitled "The Home Stretch" and was taken at the Little Everglades Steeplechase in Dade City, Florida two years ago. Significantly, they're not letting up.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Marketing 2010

I had a thought that I wanted to preserve and claim credit for. Here it is as a quick and non-controversial blog posting:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Words Are Important

I still have not listened to or read the president's State of the Union address. I have, as discussed in my last posting, been listening to the commentators on FOX. As a result, I understand from former NYC mayor Rudy Gulliani that the president is soft on terrorism because he barely mentioned the subject in the address. I understand that the president has failed at everything he has attempted to do in the last year, including closing Guantanamo, passing comprehensive health care, and bringing our troops home. Significantly, I am now aware that the president did not learn the lesson from the recent Senate election in Massachusetts and accept the referendum on his policies from the electorate in that great Commonwealth.

My last posting drew a lot of comments from my more conservative friends. I am grateful to them for their efforts to enlighten me. From them, I now realize that the president's middle name is indicative of his secret anti-American sympathies, that he is working above his pay grade because he said so when asked a question about bio-science with a quip while campaigning for office, that he is out of touch with the American people, that he excludes the GOP from participating in the legislative process and that he is responsible for a host of other ills plaguing our country.

I am not buying it. I was going to argue about the demagoguery coming from the right but, after the president's visit to the conference of Republican House members in Baltimore last week, I don't need to. If you take the time to click here and watch the unscripted, televised live exchange between the president and members of the GOP House caucus, and you're being honest, you cannot help but come away admiring the president. You don't have to agree with his policies; he acknowledges that there will be differences. However, if you think of the political risk the president took by taking on questions from the caucus on live television, working without notes, you realize it's a far cry from having a president who would not admit to making a single mistake and who would only appear at town hall meetings that were filled with his pre-screened supporters. Add in the obvious intelligence and command of the facts with which the president responded to each and every question and challenge, and the provocative smears and half-truths used to attack the administration (and win elections in Massachusetts) ring particularly hollow.

Please watch the linked video. It really is amazing and demonstrates why I am so much more comfortable with Barack Hussein Obama sitting in the Oval Office while he takes the necessary time to address our challenges than with any of the alternatives.

Finally, I used to think the definition of "chutzpah" was the story of the son who murdered his parents and asked the court for mercy because he was an orphan. I now think it's the story of Republicans who railed incessantly against allowing prisoners from Guantanamo to be moved to secure prisons in the United States, delaying the president's plan to close the prison, and then belittled the president because he did not keep his promise to close Guantanamo within the year.

Similar examples abound and, as a result, I find the vitriol spewed on FOX to be the height of hypocrisy. Guess which network cut from the president has he responded to questions from the GOP caucus last week to take comments from the president's critics? It's one thing to merely call yourself "fair and balanced". It's another to allow both sides of the debate to be aired before directing your viewers to agree with your agenda.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

While My Head is Clear

I will try to soon share my pondering on the President's State of the Union speech, delivered earlier tonight. It's a little early to do so; I didn't see it and I haven't read the text I downloaded for later review.

That being the case, it's a certainty that I will hear critics of the President and his administration attack the speech and his efforts to reach out to the nation to offer assurances that this generation's nattering nabobs of negativism are self-serving, misguided political opportunists.

For a change of pace, I think I will try reading the criticism before familiarizing myself with the actual speech. Perhaps if I can put myself in the mindset of those who did not bother to watch the President or read the speech but who nonetheless will take cues from Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly and Beck when sharing their opinions about the substance of the State of the Union, I can begin to understand how it is that intellectual laziness and news by soundbites has so effectively undermined our democracy.

My last blog, written just prior to the first anniversary of the President's inauguration, generated a number of comments. I thank my readers for all of them. None made me feel as good as the decision by my son to post a link to the blog as his Facebook status, suggesting that his friends "
(c)heck this out if you're interested in some smart political commentary." Some of the comments that came in second to Phil's validation of his father disagreed with my observation that the President should be given time to accomplish his goals.

One of my readers, a good friend despite her conservative leanings, commented, "
Obama was an outstanding campaigner. The presidency is above his pay grade." Clearly, he was an outstanding campaigner. He won the presidency of the United States. I had a hell of a time just helping elect a couple of qualified candidates to the Independence city council in November.

However, the second part of my friend's comment is more telling. Characterizing the President's performance in relation to a pay grade is the kind of meaningless rhetoric passing for political discourse that I lamented in my last blog. Moreover, the statement, on its face, is untrue. This president is taking a pay cut working out of the Oval Office instead of pursuing his career as an author and public speaker. As has been the case since his graduation from Harvard Law School, he continues to trade a more financially rewarding career path for public service.

Of course, the issue is not really about the President's salary. My friend's comment was shorthand for "the President is incompetent." My friend chose not to back it up with specifics or suggestions on how things might have been handled better in response to the gauntlet I threw down in the blog. Rather, my friend made my point by regurgitating a catch phrase likely picked up from my friend's favorite "news" source, the FOX Network, which, if repeated often enough by like minded sheep in the Limbaugh pasture, becomes accepted as reality.

Another comment I found interesting was from another friend and former colleague who expressed disagreement with my chastisement of the Republicans. "I wish we could offer alternatives, but the Dems don't listen and don't allow anyone into their closed door meetings. There's something seriously not right about that. So I say: Term limits. They're all so disengaged from the American people. Repubs or dems, they've forsaken us all and need to go."

Again, I'm afraid the comment merely parrots empty political rhetoric. First, the Democrats went out of their way to listen and invite Republican participation at the outset of the President's administration. Once it became clear that the Republicans were adopting a strategy of opposing all Democratic initiatives as a political tool, the White House and the leadership in Congress were understandably reluctant to continue to be played for chumps.

Second, Democrats DO let some into their closed door meetings – other Democrats. That's the way the system works. The caucuses meet with their members in private. The Republicans do the same thing. The Vikings and Saints did the same thing last Sunday. Opposing teams were not invited into the huddle, even when the Vikings thought there was room for one more.

However, these closed caucus meetings are not the only meetings taking place and what's "seriously" wrong is Republican claims that they have been trying to work in a bi-partisan fashion. There was an election in November, 2008. The electorate sent a fairly strong message that the Republicans' policies of the previous 8 years were no longer acceptable to the majority of the voters. Accordingly, it is a serious misrepresentation of the facts to claim a willingness to engage in bi-partisanship if your efforts are limited to insisting that these same rejected policies be incorporated into new legislation.

Third, term limits are not appropriate in our day and age. I did some quick research and found an on-line article from 2006, 12 years after the 1994 Contract with America championed by Newt Gingerich and the Republicans running for office that year. Term limits were a cornerstone of the Contract with America. However, according to the blog I found (here), 25 Congressman and 5 Senators who had pledged in 1994 to retire after 12 years in office were running for re-election in 2006. My guess is that reality set in for these Republican contractors.

Speaking practically, few people worth having in office would trade private life for public office if they knew that, after devoting 8 to 12 years away from their career in the private sector, they would be forced to return and, at best, compete with folks 8-12 years their junior who are better informed about the needs and status of the employer. Rather than being able to excel at either career, both avenues would be short circuited. For example, my Congressman is a Republican who gave up a promising career as an executive at Target Corporation. How can anyone expect him to give up a lucrative future with Target in order to devote himself to public service if in a dozen years when he is in his mid-50's he is expected to return to the private workplace and try to continue a private sector career? Would those concerned about entrenchment have all the legislators become lobbyists at the end of their dirty dozen?

The solution is not term limits. The solution is reform of campaign finance so legislators, once elected, can exercise the independent judgment they campaigned on. More on that when I discuss the Supreme Court's recent evisceration of our democracy.

"Term limits", "pay grade", "exclusionary" are all expressions of passion but not of substance. Although their repetition provides the speakers solace in numbers with fellow ditto-heads, they offer no roadmap on how to create jobs, reform health care or bring peace to the world. As of now, I'm not buying any suggestions to the contrary. Perhaps after I take in the criticism of the State of the Union address before viewing it and without reading it I'll come to understand the crises we face as a result of electing Barack Obama to the presidency. Or perhaps I'll follow through with my commitment made in my last blog and call a fraud a fraud. Make a bet and stay tuned.

Monday, January 18, 2010

One Year Later

As the holiday celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. draws to a close, I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on the first anniversary of our president's inauguration. Last year at this time, the juxtaposition of the holiday with the pending transition of power to America's first African-American president was the subject of much reflection, national self-congratulatory musing and fervent hope by the 68% of Americans who approved of the president-elect that, finally, longed for "change" would come to fruition.

A year later, the mood of the country has changed dramatically. The president's approval ratings now hover around 50%, diminished by a growing perception that (i.) the ongoing high unemployment rate, (ii.) the uncertainties about the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, (iii.) the challenges, tinged by images of nuclear holocaust, posed by Iran and North Korea, (iv.) the unresolved conflicts in the Middle East, (v.) the government's inability to prevent terrorist attacks in the homeland, (vi.) the continued depression in the residential housing market, (vii.) the looming collapse of the commercial real estate market, (viii.) the inability to pass meaningful health care reform, (ix.) the unfettered greed of Wall Street and (x.) the affront to the United States by the rejection of Chicago as the site of the 2016 Olympics all could and should have been dealt with more successfully by President Obama and his administration.

It is utterly depressing. I am overwhelmed by the hopelessness that results from living in a society that is so naive, short-sighted and malleable under the kneading of hypocritical conservative punditry.

As you may imagine, I am firmly ensconced among the president's supporters. Has he pitched a perfect game? Of course not. Have there been missteps in attempting to implement certain policies? Of course. Has 20% of the American public lost sight of the fact that running the country is not a scripted docu-drama in which all loose ends are tied up quickly neatly in response to the skill and wisdom of the chief executive as we head to the refrigerator for a late night snack? Apparently.

We are so, so much better off with a president who takes the time to think before acting and refuses to be bullied into knee-jerk reactions by impatient opponents. I am comforted by the thought that while the Fox network's talking heads were verbally eviscerating President Obama for not addressing the nation immediately after the attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253, the president was quietly directing his underlings to identify the causes of the breach of security and recommend fixes. Frankly, THAT is what he was elected to do. When he had something to say, he said it. Until then, he was focused on doing his job.

In the last year,
  • the Obama Administration has brought the country, and, by extension, the world from the brink of another Great Depression;
  • the Obama Administration made the decision that the ramifications of allowing GM and Chrysler to fail were too significant and potentially detrimental to the economy to allow that to happen. I believe that the auto makers are entitled to a chance to reorganize. Given the scope of the endeavor, the assistance of the Federal Government is required to make that possible. The dearth of manufacturing jobs in this country is enough of a problem without further reductions resulting from the shuttering of even more domestic auto plants;
  • the Obama Administration pushed through programs designed to jump start the housing industry and the auto industry;
  • the Obama Administration sent a message to the world community that the United States was done behaving like a self-righteous bully, dictating policy to everyone else and fabricating "coalitions of the willing" as if the Emperor were fully dressed;
  • the Obama Administration implemented a policy in Afghanistan, in a timely fashion when measured by relevant deadlines, that did not surrender to domestic politics and that made appropriate demands on our allies;
  • the Obama Administration attempted to work in a bi-partisan manner to formulate legislative solutions to problems demanded by the electorate in November, 2008. When frustrated by a united Republican Party that has traded the exercise of independent judgment for partisan purity in order to undermine the president, the Obama Administration continued its efforts to serve the will of the People and proceeded unilaterally.
Many of us are concerned about the costs of financing the solutions offered for the challenges we face as a nation. Those of us who are honest acknowledge that the tab for addressing these challenges has been a long time coming. We did not have a robust auto industry, real estate industry, banking industry or manufacturing base on January 19, 2009. We were not on the verge of peace in and/or with Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Yemen, Israel or Gaza as Barack Obama took the oath of office a day later. The health care system was not providing adequate, affordable care for all Americans a year ago.

In my view, President Obama got stuck with the tab and has spent the last year figuring out just how much each of us is going to have to chip in. I'm not happy about it, but there are no good alternatives. As a nation, we spent beyond our means. We chastised former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for spoiling the party fueled by a run-up of stock prices when he prophetically warned of an "irrational exuberance" taking place. We financed our misguided military forays and low tax rates by borrowing unfathomable amounts of money from foreign investors, leaving us particularly exposed should we allow a failure of our domestic banks and industrial engines.

In reality, President Obama's popularity has dropped because he hasn't been able to magically make our problems disappear in an unrealistically short time frame given their scope and depth. The propaganda proffered by the president's detractors has succeeded in convincing enough of our citizenry with "inquiring minds" otherwise focused Tiger Woods' marital status that the president has failed to deliver on the vision he offered a year ago. Given the incessant efforts of the same detractors to derail the vision's delivery, and given too many voters' confusion of partisan sniping for thoughtful analysis, the result is to be expected, yet disconcerting.

It's time to call a fraud a fraud. For example, if you think Secretary Napolitano defended the Department of Homeland Security by proclaiming that "the system worked" notwithstanding the Christmas Day terror attack, you've been defrauded. I heard her initially and verified it by listening to my podcast of the December 27, 2009 edition of "This Week with George Stephanopolous" (at about 6:40 into the podcast). She clearly stated that "once the incident occurred", everyone did their job and "the system worked". She was not referring to efforts to keep terrorists off of airplanes. She was referring to the agencies' and airlines' reactions to the news that an attempted terror attack had taken place. The difference is important and the right wing nut jobs who take the Secretary's statement out of context in order to attack the president should not be given credence on account of any resulting drop in popularity.

It's time to demand accountability from those intent on undermining the will of the electorate. If you're going to complain about the programs proposed and implemented by President Obama to address our national crises, offer specific alternatives. If you're going to whine about the state of the economy, start by disclosing whether you were part of the problem and, if so, have the decency that admit that the president is trying to clean up after your mess. If you think it's a mistake to close Guantanamo, explain why we shouldn't just execute all the prisoners there to assure that they won't be a problem in the future and to allow the eventual dissipation from our enemies' psyche the fact that America preaches due process but holds hundreds incognito without charge year after year after year.

As I said, the situation is utterly depressing. I had thought that enough of us had learned valuable lessons from the Bush/Cheney fascista that we were intent on taking back our democracy and using the government to serve the common good. Instead, we've retreated in silence and let the fear-mongers once again inject their self-serving poison into the public conscience. I intend to do my part to shed light on this mockery of the democratic process. I need to write more often as a cure for my depression. If you agree with me, pass on my prairie ponderings. If you disagree, refer to the paragraph immediately above and give it your best shot. Finally, if you disagree with me and think Sarah Palin should be president, leave me alone. You're an idiot.

I leave you with an example of pushback that I hope to see more of. Click here.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I had a "what are the odds?" experience the other day and it made me think about strange coincidences I've been involved in over the years. I decided it is time to reduce some of these to writing. Otherwise, over time, if left untold, the incidents take on mythic elements and seem too fantastic to have actually happened. Feel free to leave comments with your own coincidental experiences.

In 1986-7, I was flying to Los Angeles at least once a month to work with a client who was developing a customized vitamin business. To some extent, I made the trips to get out of being in Minnesota in the winter and out of the apartment my family was living in while our home was being constructed. To a greater extent, I made the trips because the client, a Persian expat, gave me the keys to his Ferrari Testarossa to drive while I was in town. The price of the plane ticket ($240) was worth it just to be able to drive up the Coast Highway in a car that was an upgrade from Tom Selleck's ride in Magnum, P.I.

One day, I boarded a Northwest flight to LAX. The flight attendant asked me to switch seats so a family could sit together. I obliged and moved back over the wing to an aisle seat. There was a woman of similar age in the middle seat next to me who had started her travels in Detroit. While waiting to depart we struck up a conversation. She had graduated from the University of Michigan a decade or so earlier with a theater major and was flying to Los Angeles to follow her dreams and break into the entertainment business.

I went into my facilitator mode and suggested she contact my former roommate from law school who was working as an attorney for ABC Entertainment in Los Angeles. I remember writing Bob's name and work phone number on the back of one of my cards and handing it to her. Bob and I had the kind of relationship where I knew he would help the woman if she called on a referral from me. It seemed appropriate, a logical follow-up to the twist of fate that had me sitting next to this woman after initially being assigned elsewhere.

I will never forget the look on the woman's face as I handed her the card. She stared at me in disbelief. It wasn't just the random act of kindness that stunned her. She had graduated with, and performed under, Bob, who had directed the University production of "Hello, Dolly" their senior year. Someone in Ann Arbor, who had Bob's home phone, had told her to look up Bob when she arrived in Los Angeles. Making that connection had been a major part of her plan to establish herself. But she had lost his number, had no idea where he worked and did not plan on calling every "Robert Cohen" in Los Angeles to try to track him down. She told me how upset she had been, thinking she had lost a golden opportunity to get a leg up in an extremely competitive endeavor. And then I appeared, randomly, an out of the blue second chance. "What are the odds?" Incalculable.

Life is full of these wondrous moments if we are receptive to the possibility of their occurrence. If I had not introduced myself to Bob at the student housing office before the start of law school in St. Louis in 1974 and suggested rooming together and/or if I had not engaged my neighbor on the plane to Los Angeles, there would have been no magical connection.

In these troubled times, we need to make positive things happen. We need to demonstrate the benefits of community and support. We need to network wisely. We need to reach out. Interact. Make our 1 in a million shots happen. We need to share our stories and pass on the hope of possibilities. Our lives have more meaning when we rely on the kindness of strangers – especially when WE are the strangers.

Robert Cohen and Nathaniel Davis, Hong Kong, October, 2000