Monthly Archives: June 2015

So Maybe It Wasn’t “Superstorm Sandy,” But…

Last week the Philadelphia area got whomped but good by a major storm: at times torrential rain accompanied by high winds. At Philadelphia International Airport they clocked the top wind at seventy-one miles an hour – the fifth highest they’ve ever recorded there. For the better part of three days more than 250,000 people in the region were without power, including one regular visitor to this space who was without power for five days. A few thousand were still without power yesterday morning, six days after the storm.

The Curmudgeon did not escape unscathed, either: he was without internet access or cable television for three days. Alas, he survived.

While it wasn’t as bad as Hurricane Sandy – although The Curmudgeon was without power for three days after that storm – it was pretty bad for a lot of people. At lunch time yesterday The Curmudgeon found his camera – no camera phone for him, as you might imagine – and got into his car and went out to take pictures of the aftermath of the storm six days after its last drop of rain fell. All of the pictures that follow were taken within walking distance of his home.


This tree fell about a half-block away.



And just down the block from that one, the tree that formerly occupied this space fell as well, bringing up, in one huge piece, about a ten-foot block of sidewalk.



Same scene, different angle. The rain softened the soil and the wind did the rest.



All around the neighborhood, new stumps.



And the streets filled with piles of branches that either came down from the force of the storm or needed to be cut down because of the storm’s effects.



This was a massive tree that pulled out a huge, twenty-foot strip of sidewalk and nearly hit the house on its way down.



Same tree, the underbelly of the beast.


Same tree, different angle. It was just like when your kid sister opened the ketchup bottle that you couldn’t budge: sure, the wind finished the job, but the rain loosened it.



And finally, this one was in the development where The Curmudgeon lives. The wind just snapped it off.

June News Quiz

  1. In his dissent from the Supreme Court decision that rejected the latest challenge to Obamacare, Justice Antonin Scalia described the reasoning of the majority opinion as: a) “applesauce” and “jiggery-pokery”; b) “incense and peppermint”; c) “Peaches and Herb”; or d) “flummadiddle and schmegeggy”?
  2. A new law in North Carolina requires women seeking an abortion to wait 72 hours after receiving counseling on options to abortion because: a) state officials insist that just because the state still employs the death penalty doesn’t mean they don’t hold all human life sacred; b) 135 of the 170 members of the state legislature are men so they don’t really give a damn what women want; c) North Carolina is in the south and doesn’t feel at all bound by things like Supreme Court decisions; or d) officials feared their state would become known as “the liberal Carolina”?
  3. NBC announced that instead of returning as anchor of its evening news broadcast, Brian Williams will: a) become a field reporter; b) move to MSNBC; c) co-star with Michael Richards, Dustin Diamond, Steve Seagall, Gary Busey, Shannen Doherty, and Tara Reid in the new NBC sitcom Misfits Like Us; or d) or be featured in the next season of Celebrity Apprentice?
  4. Republicans are proposing that birth control pills become over-the-counter purchases because: a) they believe they should be more available to those who want them; b) they realize they need to support their anti-abortion beliefs with greater access to tools to prevent unwanted pregnancies; c) anything that might stop those people from having so damn many babies is worth a try; or d) they want to help their campaign contributors from the insurance companies get off the hook for billions of dollars a year in prescription birth control expenses and pass the cost along to poor women instead?
  5. Country singer Toby Keith said that tighter gun control wouldn’t have prevented the church murders in Charleston and that even countries like Norway that have strict gun laws still have murders because: a) he had no way of knowing that there were only 88 gun deaths in Norway (population five million) in all of 2012 but there were 158 homicides in country music capital Nashville (population 600,000) in 2006 and 2007 alone; b) he thinks large numbers of gun murders are a reasonable price to pay for the freedom to own guns; c) he’s been wearing that big cowboy hat way too tight for way too long; or d) he’s a country singer – what did you expect?
  6. Aramark, the school and office cafeteria company, has been named the official retail provider of Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to Philadelphia. The company expects its most popular retail item to be: a) Hostess snack cake hosts; b) a Bath and Body Works “pope on a rope”; c) Oreos communion wafers; or d) a priest doll with eyes that light up every time it sees a boy under the age of twelve?
  7. While talking about Women’s World Cup soccer, ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith said that female players turn their heads while defending against free kicks because “They might not have wanted to mess their hair.” Smith later defended his remarks as: a) just a joke; b) an honest observation based on what he had seen; c) just repeating what others are saying; or d) it’s no big deal, I’m black and you know black folks aren’t at all sensitive about comments about our hair?
  8. A new Republican proposal would take responsibility for air traffic control out of the hands of the Federal Aviation Administration and give it to the private sector. Republicans want to turn the job over to: a) McDonalds, because it’ll hire all minimum wage workers, be incredibly efficient, and do a perfectly mediocre job; b) Halliburton, because it did such a great job in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; c) AIG, because when it mismanages its business it won’t be shy about asking for a bailout; or d) Ford, because it won’t say anything even if it screws up and people die as a result of its screw-ups?
  9. Only three days after 14 people employed by or affiliated with FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, were indicted on 47 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, and money-laundering, members of the organization voted to: a) commission an independent investigation of the charges; b) reconsider every decision that falls under the cloud of the indictments; c) change the color of soccer balls to divert attention from the scandal; or d) re-elect as their president the man who has led the organization for the past 17 years?
  10. The infant mortality rate in Philadelphia is higher than it is in: a) Zimbabwe; b) North Korea; c) Cuba; or d) Tunisia, Mongolia, Egypt, Micronesia, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Paraguay, Samoa, Peru, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Syria, Jordan, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, Albania, Mexico, Thailand, Botswana, Costa Rica, Lebanon, Poland, Serbia, and South Korea?

Taking Care of Business (chapters 9 and 10)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

Chapter Nine

While McDougal’s representatives began quietly spreading their fabrications and innuendo, Pennsylvania’s governor unveiled his proposed budget for the coming state fiscal year. George Clayton, a moderate Republican who had twice won his office in part based on his strong anti-Philadelphia platform, took great pleasure in annually proposing massive cuts in funding for the state’s largest city. This was Mayor Norbert’s first year in office, however, and therefore his first experience with this annual assault on his city’s financial well-being. Consequently, when his staff presented him a preliminary analysis of the proposed budget and its potential impact on Philadelphia, he immediately called an emergency meeting of his cabinet.

“Thank you all for coming over on such short notice,” Norbert began. His colleagues nodded.

“Todd,” he said, looking to the financial wizard he had brought in from Chicago to serve as his finance director, “why don’t you start us off by laying out the proposed cuts as you understand them.”

“The hits are enormous,” Todd Dixon began. “The biggest are reductions of $400 million from the current year’s state funding for public schools and $189 million in general state revenue-sharing funds for the city. He’s also proposed cutting our health care money by $65 million, our community development funding by $35 million, our recreation money by $10 million, and our miscellaneous infrastructure funding by $15 million. There’s also a $15 million cut for parks and the environment and $15 million for public safety. On top of that, he wants to postpone $35 million in highway construction and repair projects within city limits and reduce the convention center subsidy by $8 million.”

He paused.

“Oh, yes, one more thing. We’ve been getting $25 million a year to support the 400 new police officers we hired under the state’s anti-crime program. That program started three years ago and funding was supposed to continue for five years, at which time local governments were to assume financial responsibility for the new officers. Now, he’s calling for an end to the funding, but apparently, only for Philadelphia. The money would continue for every other jurisdiction in the state. So the total is $812 million: $400 million for the school district and $412 million for the city.”

“It would be catastrophic,” declared Wilma O’Neill, the city’s managing director. Philadelphia’s managing director was the equivalent of a corporation’s chief operating officer, and Norbert had recruited O’Neill from Atlanta to take on what was unanimously regarded as the most difficult job in city government: the person to whom the leaders of most city operations reported and the first person at whom people pointed fingers whenever anything went wrong. “We’d be expected to get by with much, much less, and the only way we’d be able to do that would be through severe cutbacks in city services and significant lay-offs of city employees.”

“Or tax increases,” added Ari Feldstein, the hot-shot budget director imported from the New York City office of Norbert’s company. “Property tax, wage tax, business use tax, it would all be on the table. We’re talking about filling a potential budget hole of more than $800 million.”

Mayor Norbert, a man who made a studied practice of looking calm and collected regardless of the circumstances, looked neither calm nor collected at the moment.

“What can we do?” he asked his team.

“We can sue,” declared Francisco Estevez, the Denver-born city solicitor who had joined the Norbert administration from the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

“On what grounds?” Norbert asked.

“We don’t need grounds,” Estevez replied. “The idea is to get the money, not to win in court.”

“Jesus,” Norbert said, and then, just in case anyone may have missed his invocation of his lord and savior, he repeated “Jesus Christ.”

As the five colleagues sat silently, staring at one another and contemplating the possibilities, they heard a faint knock on the door and in walked Jon Ravelsky, a partner in one of Philadelphia’s largest law firms and one of Norbert’s oldest friends. Ravelsky and the mayor had been roommates at Yale and it was Ravelsky, a native Philadelphian, who had persuaded his friend to come to Philadelphia after graduation. Now, in addition to being Norbert’s best friend, he also was his most important and influential political advisor.

“Jon, thanks for coming over.”

“Sure,” Ravelsky replied. “What’s up?”

“The governor’s budget, and it’s down, not up,” Norbert replied. “He’s talking about cutting more than $800 million in aid to the city and school district.”

Ravelsky, who had taken a seat and had been leaning far forward as the mayor spoke, now sat back and smiled.

“You think it’s funny?” Norbert asked.

“Actually, I do, yes.”

The mayor just looked at him for a moment before speaking again.

“Would you care to let us in on the joke?” Norbert asked.

“It’s February, Jim, it was just a speech and it’s just a proposal. Clayton does this every February. He sandbags Philadelphia in his first budget and takes shots at the city in his budget address. That’s how he got elected, that’s how he got re-elected, and that’s one of the things he does to help his fellow Republicans get elected and hold onto the state legislature. It’s all political posturing and it’s very effective.

“By the way, where are Ed and Larry?” Ravelsky asked, referring to two of Norbert’s political aides.

“I didn’t think we needed them for a budget meeting,” Norbert replied.

“Well, you need them, because a budget meeting like this is also a political meeting. Four out of the five of you are from out of town and have never been through a budget cycle in Philadelphia, and Jim, you’re not a career politician, so you’ve never noticed things like this. Ed and Larry know this kind of stuff and could’ve told you what this is all about.”

“So are you saying we don’t need to take this seriously?”

“No, not at all, you need to take it very seriously, but you don’t have to worry about it. A lot of legislators would love to stick it to Philadelphia, but it never happens. Michael takes care of it.”



Ravelsky was talking about Michael Ianucci, Philadelphia’s most powerful elected official serving in the state capital and the dominant voice on the House Appropriations Committee, which ultimately had the biggest role in reviewing, revising, and approving the state budget.

“He just…takes care of it?” Norbert asked.

“Yes. It’s what he does. He takes care of the city’s business in Harrisburg.”

“He’s that powerful?”

“Yeah. As long as he’s in Harrisburg, you don’t have to worry.”

“And his seat is safe?” Norbert asked, knowing that all state representatives were up for re-election later in the year and that the party primaries would be held in only three months.

“As safe as any elected official can possibly be. I don’t think he’s gotten less than eighty percent of the vote in years, and he often runs unopposed in both his primaries and the general election. As far as I know, no one’s planning to run against him this year.”

“So you’re saying we don’t have to worry about this?”

“Not quite. You have to take the threat seriously because if no one intervenes, the budget’ll pass as proposed.

“What you need to do is pay proper tribute to Michael, the delegation, and the legislature. You need to act out in public like you’re very worried and take the threat very seriously. You have to court our delegation and then go with it to the state capital and kiss a lot of asses – especially Michael’s and the Republican leaders. You have to put on a visible and highly public display of how worried you are and how hard you’re working to fight it so that when the smoke clears and you end up getting what you want, the Philadelphia-haters in the legislature can go back to their home districts and tell their constituents that they fought the good fight but were defeated by the evil and powerful Philadelphians.”

“And this is how it works every year, you say?”

“Pretty much.”

“Amazing. Then that’s what we’ll do. Thanks for the insight.”

Chapter Ten

In late February, two weeks after learning that the governor’s proposed budget would not destroy his city, Mayor Norbert proposed his own budget for Philadelphia’s upcoming fiscal year in an address to city council. To the delight and amazement of the public, the business community, and the news media, Norbert’s spending plan called for no new taxes, modest reductions in two business taxes and the city’s onerous wage tax, a few modest new programs and program expansions, and the exact same bottom line of overall expenditures as its predecessor. Even anti-Philadelphia state legislators found disappointingly little in the mayor’s proposal to which they could object, and the traditional cross-state bloviating about profligate neighbors to the southeast was muted and only half-hearted.




Charleston and the Confederate Flag

Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham is currently a senator representing the state of South Carolina, so naturally, he’s was asked last week about conditions in his state and the slaughter of black worshippers in their church by a white racist.

He told CNN

We’re not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere. It’s him … not the flag.

And Graham’s right, of course: a guy pulled the trigger, not a flag, and it’s not fair to blame a flag for the guy’s actions.

confederate flagBut still: there’s a culture in South Carolina, a culture that still celebrates the Confederate flag and, at least implicitly and apparently, as this shooting illustrates, in some ways explicitly as well, celebrates what that flag stood for. It’s hard not to believe that an attitude like this doesn’t contribute to the kind of cultural indoctrination that leads a guy to open fire at people in a church because they don’t look like him and his family.

Graham also told CNN:

It works here, that’s what the statehouse agreed to do. You could probably visit other places in the country near some symbol that doesn’t quite strike you right.

And that’s where Graham loses The Curmudgeon: “You could probably visit other places in the country near some symbol that doesn’t quite strike you right.”

That seems to be his justification, as it is for many others, for South Carolina’s insistence on continuing to fly the Confederate flag: it’s part of their heritage, part of their culture, and it shows their respect for the soldiers who fought for them during the Civil War.

And that argument could almost be accepted except for this:

Look at what those soldiers fought for.

Look at that culture and what it believed and espoused.

You have to wonder how the same argument would fly if Graham or those who share his view found themselves in Germany staring at a swastika flying on a flag outside a government building or even a private residence and, when they expressed concern about what they were seeing and what it meant, were told that the Nazi era was part of Germany’s heritage, part of what the German people fought for, and something that needs to be remembered and respected and that’s the only significance of continuing to fly a flag with a swastika on it.

The Curmudgeon suspects that the argument they continue to make here about the Confederate flag – something they clearly believe even though there’s now at least some short-term movement to take it down – would no longer seem so convincing.

Dreaming (in plaid)

Knowing, as he does, several people with young’uns who are walking in graduation exercises this month, it came as little surprise to The Curmudgeon that he recently had a dream about something from his own high school graduation forty years ago.

But his pants?

Yes, his pants.

Of course, there’s a story here. There’s always a story.

You see, The Curmudgeon attended a very large urban high school – Abraham Lincoln High School in Philadelphia, which had 4300 students, 900 of them in his graduating class. The school was so large that in some cases, the four minutes they gave you to get from one class to the next wasn’t always enough. He still recalls arriving at health class, in room 181B, about a minute late and the teacher greeting him at the door on the first day of classes with a stern look and demanding to know where he was coming from.

“Room 253,” the five-foot nothing student replied.

The teacher nodded; he knew you couldn’t get from there to here in four minutes.

You can’t have graduation exercises for a group that large in the high school auditorium or even in the football stadium, so graduation was held at the old Philadelphia Convention Hall, a facility that was the site of four presidential nominating conventions (Democrats in 1936 and 1948 and Republicans in 1940 and 1948) and the home court of the 1966-1967 NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers. While we had rehearsed graduation in our high school gym – a facility so large that it was the home court for several games of the NBA Philadelphia Warriors in the 1950s – the class gathered at the Convention Hall on the morning of graduation to rehearse where the exercises were actually to be held.

For most of us it was the first time we ever visited Convention Hall, and it was pretty overwhelming. The class would march onto the floor and our families would be upstairs, in the stands. As we rehearsed, a thought occurred to The Curmudgeon.

“How will my parents ever figure out which kid is me with them sitting all the way up there and 900 of us down here, far below them on the floor, all wearing one of two colors of caps and gowns?”

mortarboardIt was a question our teachers and the school’s administrators had anticipated, so we were warned: no markings on the tops of our mortarboards. Any students who had anything on their mortarboard would be removed from graduation exercises and would not receive their diploma that day. (The same threat was made for anyone who tossed their mortarboard into the air at the conclusion of the ceremony. It was a joyless event.)

So The Curmudgeon knew he’d have to be creative.

And he came upon a solution: his pants.

This was 1975, an era of bright, bright (double-knit) clothing, and The Curmudgeon had clothing that was among the brightest – although not out of the mainstream for that time. (A sad note: he still does, and he now is. He is not a very good dresser, although he’s not a careless one. When people see him poorly dressed today they might conclude that it’s carelessness. It’s not. It’s just bad taste.) So all he had to do was pick something so bright, so distinctive, that his parents, brother, and sister would know their boy when he strolled onto the Conventional Hall floor below them, one of 900.

And there was one obvious candidate in his closet full of seventeen-year-old’s clothes: a pair of bright green and blue glen plaid pants.

Bell bottoms, of course – remember, we’re talking 1975.

With cuffs.

saddle shoesAnd just to make sure, two-tone saddle shoes. (He liked those shoes – a lot – even though they gave him excruciating arch cramps, which always seemed unfair inasmuch as The Curmudgeon has no discernible arches at all. In fact, he’s been in the market for a similar pair (minus whatever structural flaw induces the arch cramps) for about four months now and is confident he’ll eventually find them.)

So that’s what he did: he wore green and blue plaid cuffed bell bottoms and two-tone saddle shoes to his high school graduation, and when he stepped onto the floor of Philadelphia’s Convention Hall that steamy June day, several thousand people were no doubt amused or appalled by what they were seeing – although The Curmudgeon likes to think at least a few of them had a “why didn’t my kid think of that?” moment – but four people sitting up in the cheap seats knew, beyond doubt, when their boy stepped onto the floor. (The Curmudgeon spent fifteen minutes online doing web searches to try to find something that looked like the pants but didn’t find anything that would do them justice. Draw your own conclusions about whether that’s significant.)

And last weekend, while getting what passes for sleep these days, The Curmudgeon saw those pants in a dream. Oh, they weren’t pants in the dream – they were a piece of fabric covering something he couldn’t recall when he awoke the following morning – but they were absolutely, positively those distinctive blue and green glen plaid pants recalled to memory by a recent spate of graduations that helped make his own otherwise unmemorable high school graduation something to remember.


Sad But True

stewartWhy is it that the public figure who seems to have the best perspective on what happened in Charleston last week is the host of a fake news show?

See Jon Stewart make all of the other commentators look inadequate here.

The Republicans Got it All Wrong


But for once, that’s unfortunate – because The Curmudgeon wishes they had gotten it right.

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans and conservatives made a mad rush for gun stores because their leaders, loons like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, with no basis for their assertions other than their own delusional thinking, told them that “Obama is coming for your guns.” Check it out: gun sales skyrocketed between the time Obama was elected in November of 2008 and when he took office in late January of 2009 and they have remained at record levels ever since.

The truth is that Obama has been gun owners’ best friend in office. Except for a brief flurry of activity in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass murder, he’s been pretty quiet on the subject. The Curmudgeon was going to do a little research to dig up some facts and figures to support this argument but then recalled that this had already been done for him on an episode of the HBO series The Newsroom. In three minutes the show summed up the case, and you can see it here.

Last week, of course, we had a new tragedy when a racist – does it even matter that he was a racist? – opened fire on people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine black people. The president was outraged – well, as outraged as Barack Obama ever allows himself to be seen in public.

The following is an account of the president’s remarks last Friday from the publication Business Insider.

President Barack Obama on Friday renewed a push for measures to curb gun violence, in the wake of a deadly shooting in a historically African-American church in South Carolina.

 “I refuse to act as if this is the new normal, or to pretend that it’s simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop is somehow politicizing the problem,” Obama said Friday during remarks at the US Conference of Mayors in San Francisco.

 “We need a change in attitudes among everybody — lawful gun owners, those who are unfamiliar with guns. We have to have a conversation about it and fix this.”

 Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old alleged shooter in the church shooting that left nine people dead Wednesday night, was arrested on Thursday and appeared at a bond hearing on Friday.

The Department of Justice said Friday that it is investigating the incident as a possible act of domestic terrorism.

 Obama spoke from the White House on Thursday, where he mourned the victims and lamented the fact that it was the 14th time he has addressed the nation after a mass shooting during his presidency. He said Thursday that it was another instance of someone who “wanted to inflict harm” having “no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

On Friday, he said simply grieving for the families is not enough and urged action. He chided Congress for not passing new legislation in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which left 20 children and six others dead. The Senate in 2013 filibustered the most broadly popular measure unveiled in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting — legislation that would have expanded background checks.

 “If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom — reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported — we wouldn’t have prevented every act of violence, or even most,” Obama said. “We don’t know if it would have prevented what happened in Charleston. No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence. But we might still have some more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be whole.  You all might have to attend fewer funerals.

 “And we should be strong enough to acknowledge this. At the very least, we should be able to talk about this issue as citizens, without demonizing all gun owners who are overwhelmingly law-abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody’s guns away.”

Obama said he thinks Congress will eventually “do the right thing,” despite comments on Thursday that some observers took as “resignation” to the dim political prospects for new gun regulations.

 “I want to be clear — I am not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing,” he said. “I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to feel a sense of urgency.” 

But he didn’t say he was going to do anything more than talk about it because, even though he’s kinda/sorta outraged, it appears he’s still not outraged enough to act.

In hindsight, the Republicans had absolutely nothing to worry about because on gun issues, the guy’s all talk and no action.



The Donald is In!

For pundits, comedians, talk show hosts, and bloggers who may have been skeptical, it’s now clear: there is indeed a god. How else to explain the gift that’s been bestowed upon us in the form of Donald Trump’s official candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination?

trumpYes, The Donald has thrown whatever the hell that is on his head into the ring.

Oh, sure, there were those clueless prognosticators who insisted Trump would never run – one The Curmudgeon knows wrote that he was too gutless to run – but lo and behold, The Donald is, after many years of pretending he was going to run for president, actually going to do it this time.

And he got it started with a bang last week with an announcement that may go down in history as one of the most bizarre speeches ever – a mix of shameless self-promotion, braggadocio, shameless self-promotion, saber-rattling, shameless self-promotion, mutilation of the truth, shameless self-promotion, jingoism, shameless self-promotion, fabrication, and yes, even more shameless self-promotion. You can read it yourself here, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

And now, The Curmudgeon would like to share some of the highlights with you.

The Donald began, as he often does, with some self-promotion.

It’s great to be here at Trump Tower.

Nothing like a quick commercial plug.

Next, some exaggeration.

This is beyond anybody’s expectations. There’s been no crowd like this.

Well, actually, The Donald made sure there was no crowd like that: according to published reports, his people contacted a New York City casting agency and hired actors for $50 apiece to fill out the crowd. The email from Trump’s people to the casting agency reportedly read

We are looking to cast people for the event to wear T-shirts and carry signs and help cheer him in support of his announcement. We understand this is not a traditional ‘background job,’ but we believe acting comes in all forms and this is inclusive of that school of thought.

Yes, it is “inclusive of that school of thought!” Inclusive, yes, but not very effective; they must’ve been lousy actors because the crowd is conspicuously quiet throughout The Donald’s speech; see for yourself here. Maybe he needs to do his thing with these actors: declare “You’re fired.”

Trump immediately launched into a routine about China being an enemy of the U.S.

We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us.

But like Mighty Mouse, Trump is coming to our rescue:

I beat China all the time. All the time.

And The Donald has identified a new enemy for us: Mexico.

Yes, Mexico.

Who knew?

They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.

That’s right: you can hardly find an American these days who wouldn’t gladly trade places with the average Mexican.

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

Mexico, of course, isn’t “sending” anyone here. The folks sneaking across the border – in shrinking numbers, by the way – are fleeing oppressive poverty in the hope of securing a sub-minimum wage job in the U.S. picking fruit, mowing lawns, or cleaning hotel rooms. Is that how Mexico is “killing us economically”? And about those people Mexico is “sending”: didn’t we go through this a few years ago with John McCain and the governor of Arizona when we learned that all those rapes, abductions, and murders they attributed to people who snuck across the U.S. border were sheer fabrication? Well, The Donald wasn’t going to let a little thing like the truth get in the way of making his point.

He seldom does.

Sensing that his audience might be skeptical, The Donald elaborated:

But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting.

Because we can all envision The Donald hitting a cop bar and tossing back a few with U.S. border guards.

Next he turned his attention to ISIS, but for him, ISIS is more an economic competitor than a threat to people, countries, and entire regions of the world.

Islamic terrorism is eating up large portions of the Middle East. They’ve become rich. I’m in competition with them. They just built a hotel in Syria. Can you believe this? They built a hotel. When I have to build a hotel, I pay interest. They don’t have to pay interest, because they took the oil that, when we left Iraq, I said we should have taken.

A couple of things here. First, did he really suggest that the U.S. should have stolen oil? Second, does he really see ISIS only as an economic threat? Does he not see, or just not care about, the havoc ISIS is wreaking in its part of the world? Probably not – because after all, it certainly doesn’t affect his own pocketbook.

Next The Donald turned his attention to the economy.

Last quarter, it was just announced our gross domestic product – a sign of strength, right? But not for us. It was below zero. Whoever heard of this? It’s never below zero.

And it wasn’t below zero last quarter, either. The U.S. gross domestic product for the past year is more than $17 trillion.

So The Donald was off just a tad.

The Donald then turned his attention to the Obamacare website.

I have so many websites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me three dollars.

That’s right: while the rest of the world spends serious money to establish complex websites, The Donald apparently can snap his fingers and get a website for three dollars.

He must be using GoDaddy.

The guy’s amazing. The bragging never ends.

But he wasn’t finished with Obamacare.

Obamacare really kicks in in 16, 2016. Obama is going to be out playing golf.

What he’s suggesting, of course, is that when the real problems with Obamacare set in, Obama won’t be president anymore. Just one problem: in 2016 he will be. Will someone kindly inform The Donald that unless Mr. Obama chooses to leave office early and give Joe Biden a quick turn behind the wheel, Obama will be president through all of 2016 and until January 20, 2017?

obama playing golfAnd he decided that a presidential campaign announcement speech was an appropriate place to talk about the president’s golf game.

He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him, I actually would say. I have the best courses in the world, so I’d say, you want, if he wants to – I have one right next to the White House, right on the Potomac. If you’d like to play, that’s fine.

So here he is, announcing his candidacy for the presidency, but he needs to throw in a plug for his golf courses.

Like on television, however, you seldom get just one commercial at a time.

Now, our country needs – our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal.

Copies no doubt available at the back of the room after the speech for $24.95. The Donald is not one to let a money-making opportunity pass unexploited.

hot pocketsAnd then he touches upon one of The Curmudgeon’s favorite subjects.

We need somebody that can take the brand of the United States and make it right again.

That’s right: we are no longer a country, neither an idea nor an ideal, not even a dream. We’re a brand. Like Pop Tarts. Or Kotex.

Trump also expressed displeasure with Mr. Obama for negotiating the release of a prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl, who it turns out was not without some serious issues of his own.

We get Bergdahl. We get a traitor. We get a no-good traitor, and they get the five people that they wanted for years, and those people are now back on the battlefield trying to kill us. That’s the negotiator we had.

One problem: Those five people are in Qatar, are being watched, can’t leave Qatar, and are nowhere near any battlefields.

Whereas earlier The Donald portrayed China as a mortal enemy, he now switches gears and proclaims

… I like China. I sell apartments for – I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?

 Because anyone who does business with The Donald has to be a good guy, right?

 I own a big chunk of the Bank of America Building at 1290 Avenue of the Americas that I got from China in a war. Very valuable. I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower. I love China.

Huh? Trump waged war against China? The mainstream media must have missed that one. Completely.

So how will The Donald finance his campaign?

I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.

And modest.

But that was just the beginning of the modesty.

I’m a private company, so nobody knows what I’m worth. And the one thing is that when you run, you have to announce and certify to all sorts of governmental authorities your net worth. So I said, “that’s okay.” I’m proud of my net worth. I’ve done an amazing job.

An amazing job.

Then, to his humble roots.

I started off – thank you – I started off in a small office with my father in Brooklyn and Queens, my father said – and I love my father. I learned so much.

Let us digress for a moment and take a quick look at how Trump got his start and how he made his money. Wikipedia – admittedly not the best source in the world, but also not a terrible one for something like this – reports that The Donald’s father developed and ran affordable rental housing in New York City – and not just an apartment building or two, either: 27,000 units of low-income, multi-family apartment complexes and row houses in Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Sheepshead Bay, Flatbush, and Brighton Beach.

So The Donald didn’t exactly start out with the shirt on his back and the change in his pocket.

So what did he start out with for resources? You can find a great explanation of how Trump got his start in business, how he and his family built their empire in large part with government money, how he has had to turn to the courts many times for relief from the financial pain caused by his own lack of competence, and how he now believes that those same means of pursuing success should not be available to others in a fascinating excerpt from the book The Self-Made Myth: The Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. Find it here.

So how much is The Donald worth? He was not at all shy about discussing this. (You suspected otherwise?)

And I have big assets – big accounting firm, one of the most highly respected – $9,240,000,000.

One would think that would be enough on the subject. But anyone who thinks that clearly hasn’t been paying attention all these years.

So I have a total net worth, and now with the increase, it will be well over $10 billion. But here, a total net worth of – net worth, not assets not – net worth, after all debt, after all expenses, the greatest assets – Trump Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, Bank of America Building in San Francisco, 40 Wall Street, sometimes referred to as the Trump Building right opposite the New York – many other places all over the world. So the total is $8,737,000,540. Now I’m not doing that… I’m not doing that to brag because you know what? I don’t have to brag. I don’t have to, believe it or not.


great wall of chinaAnd then he returned to Mexico.

I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

And more Mr. Tough Guy.

Nobody will be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump. Nobody.

And it’s hard not to take him at his word, considering that he apparently won a building from China in a war.

And then he inexplicably took a gratuitous swipe at Secretary of State John Kerry.

And we won’t be using a man like Secretary Kerry that has absolutely no conception of negotiation, who’s making a horrible and laughable deal, who’s just being tapped as they make weapons right now, and then goes into a bicycle race at 72 years old, and falls and breaks his leg. I won’t be doing it. I promise I will never be in a bicycle race.

Once again he’s playing fast and loose with the facts: yes, Kerry fell off his bicycle and broke his leg, but no, he was not participating in a race at the time of his fall.

But again The Donald is not going to let a little thing like the facts get in the way of telling a tall tale.

And finally, The Donald has a few words about our infrastructure.

Rebuild the country’s infrastructure. Nobody can do that like me. Believe me. It will be done on time, on budget, way below cost, way below what anyone ever thought. I look at the roads being built all over the country, and I say I can build those things for one-third. What they did was unbelievable, how bad.

 It hardly seems necessary to editorialize at this point, it’s all so incredibly appalling, so instead of having the last word himself, The Curmudgeon will test your patience just one more time by pointing you in the direction of a wonderful column by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post and giving him the last word. Its title is “Donald Trump’s festival of narcissism,” and you can find it here.

stoogesThis may be a lot of fun – at least for at long as it lasts – as we now have the Three Stooges in the Republican presidential contest: Shemp (Rick Perry), Larry (Rick Santorum), and Moe (The Donald).

Nyuck nyuck!



Taking Care of Business (chapters 7 and 8)

(For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

Chapter Seven

The next evening, McDougal met blue-collar workers’ union president Fred Gilliam at a bar and they talked over drinks.

“So, Fred, your new boss has made quite a splash in the last few days, hasn’t she?” McDougal asked Gilliam.

“I don’t have no bosses, Denny. I’m the boss in my shop.”

“I mean the new streets commissioner, this Shaniqua Watson.”

“She ain’t my boss, but I hear what you’re saying.”

“And you’re letting her run that department?”

“Commissioners run departments.”

“Since when?”

“Since in her case she’s helping a lot of my men pick up a few extra bucks.”

McDougal was surprised.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“She can’t keep all those big-time promises without overtime. If a street light crew has a full day of work planned and she’s got ten more lights to replace that day to keep her promise, my guys get some OT.”

“Where does she get the money for that?” McDougal asked.

“Don’t know, don’t care. Wherever she gets it, it’s green and it spends, and that’s all that matters to my guys.”

McDougal paused.

“So you have no problem with her?”

“Hell no. She rotates the extra hours, fair and square, to everyone who wants them. No favoritism, no problems for anyone who passes. Double time for Sundays and holidays, too.”

“She’s causing real problems for my people, Fred.”

Gilliam looked at him and laughed.

“Your people ain’t my people, Denny.”

“If she goes around my people and starts making the streets department responsive directly to the public, how do you expect my people to turn out the vote?”

Gilliam laughed again.

“Ain’t my problem.”

“If we start getting a few Republicans elected to council and the state legislature it’ll sure as hell be your problem, Fred.”

“First of all, state legislature’s been controlled by Republicans on and off for the past twenty years, and more on than off. If it makes a difference for us, I’ve never seen it. Second, it’s not like the brothers and sisters in north Philly and west Philly are gonna start voting Republican.”

Gilliam was referring to two large, densely populated parts of the city that were ninety percent African-American and consistently voted ninety percent Democratic regardless of the office being contested, the issues being debated, or the candidates on the ballot. Democrats representing these areas rarely faced more than token opposition at the polls, and once elected, unless there was a scandal – and often, even if there was one – they could comfortably hold the office for the rest of their lives.

“What about the northeast?” McDougal asked, referring to a part of the city that had long been predominantly white and had the only meaningful concentration of Republican voters in the city.

Gilliam scoffed.

“You ride out there lately? It ain’t all white no more. You’ve got a few brothers and sisters out there, a lot of Hispanics who don’t even know what a Republican is, and a lot of Asians, who don’t vote because they’re afraid the immigration’ll put ‘em on a boat back home. I’m not worried about the northeast.”

“So you’re seriously okay with Watson?”

“No, I’m in love with Watson. She’s smart and she’s fair, which my men appreciate. She’s helping my people make more money, which I appreciate. And with contract negotiations coming up, she’s making my people look good, which we all appreciate. So hell, no, I got no problem with her. Shoot, I’m hoping a little Shaniqua rubs off on the commissioners in some of the other departments where I have members.”

McDougal thanked Gilliam and, as the union leader departed, asked the bartender for another drink and two aspirin.

Chapter Eight

Three days later McDougal met with three carefully selected party leaders, including a member of city council and a long-time state senator. All three were notable for their strong relationships with members of the city’s print media. They all spoke regularly to reporters and columnists – not just when there were specific stories, but often, just to talk about whatever was going on at the time in city hall or Harrisburg.

The time had come, McDougal told them, to begin planting in the press the idea that despite all the excitement Watson had created, there remained serious questions about her ability to do her job.

The planting should be subtle, McDougal instructed them. Under no circumstances were they to initiate a conversation with a reporter solely to talk about Shaniqua Watson. Instead, she should be one subject among several in any given conversation – and definitely not the first subject. McDougal was familiar with such exchanges; he often had them himself with reporters. These conversations followed one of two basic patterns. The first focused on a specific issue: a reporter would call regarding a particular bill, a specific political issue, an anticipated development. Once they finished talking about the subject of the call, the conversation would wander off into whatever else might be going on at the time. The second type of conversation took place when there was no specific agenda. Typically, this started with a reporter just working his sources, fishing around for a story or a small bit of information that might eventually lead to one – anything to avoid having to do any actual reporting. Often, it was just a means of staying in touch, and such conversations often amounted to little more than an exchange of political gossip. Sometimes, the politicians would even initiate such calls themselves, doing so to find out what reporters knew or to make such calls seem like everyday occurrences so that when they needed to call for a specific purpose, the interaction seemed routine and the reporter had no particular reason to question the politician’s motives.

For now, McDougal told his colleagues to focus on three things.

First, they should mention in passing that Watson was one of a surprising number of non-Philadelphians appointed to top positions by Mayor Norbert. With so many outsiders running city government – including Norbert, who was viewed by local politicians as an outsider even though he had now called Philadelphia home for more than twenty-five years – people were beginning to question how the new administration’s senior-level officials could possibly understand what the city and its residents needed and wanted from their government.

What people, one of McDougal’s guests asked.

“Us,” McDougal replied. “We’re people, and we’re questioning it.”

Second, McDougal continued, they could point out that Watson was not qualified for her position. Philadelphia’s streets department had always been run by engineers. While her management experience might be valuable in some other departments, streets addressed a number of highly technical matters. How could she make decisions about complex engineering problems without a strong academic background in engineering? For that matter, how could the engineers who work for her possibly respect her in light of this glaring shortcoming in her background?

The third idea he wanted his colleagues to attempt to plant was more delicate, McDougal stressed. While the streets department, like any large bureaucracy, had administrative and clerical staff, more than ninety-five percent of its employees were men: trash collectors, truck drivers, laborers, and the like. Watson is a woman – the first to lead the department. In their conversations with reporters, McDougal said they should suggest that this all-male, working-class workforce was – or so they were starting to hear – none too happy to be working for a woman.

“Is that true?” the same person interrupted.

“How should I know?” the party chairman replied.

Anyhow, McDougal continued, many believe that any woman working in this kind of operation must be a lesbian, adding to worker unease.

McDougal turned to the person who had already interrupted him twice.

“No, I don’t know if she’s a lesbian.”

As his colleagues departed, McDougal asked them to report back to him about their conversations with reporters so he could keep track of them, monitor their impact, and reinforce the messages they were delivering through his own, separate discussions with the same reporters.


Seriously Strange Priorities

hillaryWe don’t know what Hillary Clinton might propose doing to rein in the abuses of Wall Street, defeat ISIS, or improve public education, but this past week she and her campaign gave us something they apparently think is much more important.

Her Spotify campaign playlist.

It’s nice to know she’s so single-mindedly focused on the really important things.