NEW YEARS EVE

Tonight, people around the world will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Although the specifics of the celebration may differ in various countries, it is generally a time of social gatherings, parties, eating, drinking, and merriment. The Pacific island nations of Kiribati, which is nothing more than a coral atoll in the Central Pacific, and Samoa,, which is the western-most of the Samoan Islands, will be the first to celebrate; American Samoa, which includes seven tiny islands and atolls in the eastern part of the Samoan Islands, and Baker Island, which is an uninhabited atoll 3,100 km southwest of Honolulu, will be the last.

Below please find a sampling of celebration customs in various countries:

1. In the US NYE is celebrated with parties with family and friends and other special events. For example, since 1907 people have been gathering in Times Square to watch the “Ball Drop.” At precisely 11:59 pm, a huge Waterford crystal ball, weighing some 12,000 pounds, begins its descent from the roof of One Times Square down a 70-foot high pole. Exactly one minute later, at midnight, the ball reaches the roof of the building, and huge lights signal the start of the New Year.

Times Square has been the focal point of NYE celebrations in the US since 1904.  That year, the first organized NYE celebration, consisting of an all-day street festival culminating in a huge fireworks display, was held there. It was reported that at midnight the celebratory noise could be heard as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, some 30 miles away.

The celebration was organized by the New York Times owner, Adolph Ochs, to commemorate the opening of the Times new headquarters located in the tiny triangle at the intersection 42nd Street, Broadway and 7th Avenue.  The city renamed the area Times Square in honor of the venerable publication.

[Quiz questions:  1) What other historically significant event occurred in NYC in 1904?  2) What was Times Square’s name prior to 1904?  See below for the answers. ]

Two years  later the City banned the fireworks display.  Ochs’ response  was to replace it with the “Ball Drop.”  The details of this “Ball Drop” have evolved over the years, especially technologically.

The celebration, itself, has also evolved over the years.  Due to the world we now live in, security is tighter than the proverbial “drum.”  For example, regarding the police and “alphabet agencies,” it is “all hands on deck.”  Additionally, for security reasons, there are no food, drinks, waste baskets, toilet facilities, knapsacks, large bags and pocketbooks permitted.   Best to arrive early, and if you have to leave for any reason, good luck returning.

Times Square has become so symbolic of the celebration of New Year’s that it draws approximately one million spectators from all over the world, many of whom stand in the cold without access to food or toilet facilities for hours just to be there.   It is estimated that in excess of one ton of confetti will be dropped at the stroke of midnight. Thankfully, I don’t have to clean it up.

This year, the frigid weather will present an additional complication.  Temperatures are expected to dip into the single digits, with wind chills at or below zero.  Revelers, especially those who arrive early, will have to find ways to keep (relatively) warm.  This would be a good year to watch the festivities in the warmth and comfort of your home.

“The Drop” has inspired similar celebrations in other cities, such as Atlanta (“Peach Drop”) and Nashville (“Music Note Drop”). Entertainment from various venues is also featured.  The most famous and enduring entertainer was Guy Lombardo, who from 1928 to 1976 entertained from the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, first on the radio, then on TV. After his death in 1977 other programs became prominent, most notably “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.”   After his death, the mantle passed to Ryan Seacrest and others.  Traditionally, NYE is the busiest day at Disneyland and Disney World, which feature Disney-character shows and fireworks.

2. In Canada the mode of celebrations vary by region. For example, in Toronto, Niagara Falls and other areas of Ontario, there are concerts, parties, fireworks and sporting events. On the other hand, in rural Quebec some people go ice fishing.  Montreal features concerts and fireworks.

3. In Mexico, families decorate their homes in various colors, each of which symbolizes a particular wish for the upcoming year. For example, yellow would symbolize a wish for a better job, green, improved finances, white, improved health, and red, general improvement in lifestyle and love. At midnight, many Mexicans eat a grape with each chime of the clock and make a wish each time. Some people bake a sweet bread with a coin hidden inside. Whoever gets the piece with the coin will be blessed with good fortune in the coming year. Finally, some people make a list of all the bad events that occurred to them over the past year on a piece of paper and then burn the paper to symbolize a purging of all the bad luck.

4. As you might expect celebrations in England focus around Big Ben. People gather to observe fireworks and celebrate. In addition, many celebrate in pubs or at private parties.

At the stroke of midnight it is traditional to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I have always been curious as to the derivation of this song and why it is sung at New Year’s. The origin is murky, but it has generally been attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. He wrote it in 1788, but it is likely that some of the words were derived from other Scottish poems and ballads. “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates into English as “long, long ago,” “old times,” or “days gone by.”  Thus, at the stroke of midnight we bid farewell to the past year and, at the same time, wish to remember the good times.  In some areas the song is also sung at funerals, graduations and any other event that marks a “farewell” or “ending.” Sometimes the singers gather in a circle and hold hands.

CONCLUSION

As a sign of the times, the Washington Post reported that the city of Berlin will be establishing “safe zones” for women.  No doubt, this is in response to the rash of sexual assaults that have occurred there in recent years as an unwanted part of the NYE celebrations.  This is a smart idea.  Perhaps, other locales will adopt it as well.

Whatever your NYE plans may be and however you may celebrate, I urge you to be careful and drive safely and defensively. Pay particular care to watch out for the “other guy.” This is one night where too many people celebrate excessively and drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. These people should not be on the road, but, nevertheless, they are, and they are dangerous both to you and themselves. For this reason, Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s long-time side-kick on the “Tonight Show” and a noted party-goer, used to refer to New Year’s Eve derisively as “amateur night.”  New Year’s Day is the second most deadly holiday for drivers. (Thanksgiving is #1.) Moreover, a whopping 42% of the driving fatalities on NYD are the result of DUI.

Answers to quiz questions:  1)  The city’s first subway line opened in 1904.  2) Longacre Square.

Enjoy yourself, but don’t become a statistic.

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ROSE MARIE

Rose Marie enjoyed one of the longest careers in show business history.  She entertained audiences for some 90 years.  At the age of three her mother entered her in an Atlantic City talent contest as “Baby Rose Marie,” where she sang.  In her long career she performed in every entertainment medium –  vaudeville, clubs, radio, tv, movies and the theatre.  Although she began as a singer, later generations knew her best as a comedic actress on tv.

Rose Marie Mazzetta was born on August 15, 1923 in NYC to an Italian father and a Polish mother.  Her father had a rather interesting job.  He was an arsonist for Al Capone.  Accordingly, Rose Marie was an acquaintance of various mobsters, such Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel.  As she explained to People magazine in a 2016 interview, “[My father}used to burn down your warehouse if things weren’t going the right way, but I didn’t know that at the time. …. To me, Al Capone was ‘Uncle Al.’ ”   In her autobiography, Hold the Roses, she explained these mob connections often helped her in her career.  For example, she frequently appeared at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, which, reputedly, was own by mobsters.  She said if she wanted to appear at another casino she made sure to get permission from “the boys.”

At five, she began singing in Rudy Vallee’s band on NBC.  She was such a hit that NBC gave her a seven-year contract and her own 15 minute show.  Over the next several years she performed in vaudeville, nightclubs, and on the radio.  She was a star.  She was known as “The Darling of the Airwaves.”

By 1960 she was already a big star when she was signed to co-star as a comedy writer on the Dick Van Dyke Show with Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore and Morey Amsterdam. The show was a big hit and ran from 1961 – 1966.  Rose Marie’s role was a ground-breaker.  In her words, it was one of the few roles in which a woman was not depicted as either a “wife, a mother or a housekeeper.”   Today, such limitations of women’s roles are hard to imagine, but that was the way it was at that time.   She recalled that at one point she bluntly asked Carl Reiner, the show’s creator and producer, why her role was not as prominent as Moore’s.  Reiner replied, just as bluntly, “they [audiences] wanna look at her legs [not yours].”  Rose Marie wasn’t unattractive, but I can’t argue with that logic.

After Van Dyke, she starred on The Doris Day Show and the original version of the Hollywood Squares game show, where she got to demonstrate her comedic talents.  In addition, she was a frequent guest star on such it shows as Murphy Brown and The Dean Martin Show.

CONCLUSION

Rose Marie was one of the few performers who never needed to use a last name professionally. She was extremely versatile.  She performed successfully in every entertainment medium – nightclubs, vaudeville, radio, movies, tv and the theatre.   In addition, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After her death, the following was posted on her website: “Heaven just got a whole lot funnier.”  How true.

UNSUNG HEROES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

The struggle for freedom from England had many unlikely heroes.  After all, defeating the most powerful nation on earth with a rag tag army and no real navy was a herculean task with very little chance of success.  If Las Vegas would have existed in 1776 the betting line would likely have been infinity:1 against the colonists.

Most everyone is familiar with the main leaders, the so-called “Founding Fathers,” such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and Hancock, among others.  This blog, however, will focus on eight heroes who are less well-known, but whose contributions were pivotal to the success of the Revolution.  So, read on, and be edified.

  1. Caspar Rodney –   In July, 1776 the Continental Congress was voting on whether or not to adopt the Declaration of Independence.  It had been agreed that a unanimous vote of all the colonies would be required for adoption.  Rodney was a delegate from Delaware, but he was not in Philadelphia.  He was at home, gravely ill with cancer.  When he learned that his vote was urgently needed to break a tie among the other Delaware delegates he rode all night to arrive in Philadelphia in the “nick of time” to cast the deciding vote in favor, even though he was so weak he could barely stand.  “All sensible and honest men are in favor of independence,” he stated.  Rodney’s dramatic ride from his deathbed in the dead of night makes him a unsung hero in my book.
  2. Culper Spy Ring –  Reliable intelligence is a necessity in any war.  General Washington needed it urgently.  He organized the Culper Spy Ring under the direction of Major Benjamin Talmadge.  The Ring was based in Setauket, Long Island and operated primarily in NYC and LI.  Key players included Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend, who were known by the aliases Samuel Culper, Sr. and Jr., respectively, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe and Anna Strong.  They operated under the noses of the British, who occupied NYC and LI for most of the war, and provided much valuable intelligence.  The Ring was the subject of a book by Alexander Rose and a cable tv series.
  3. Benedict Arnold – Why, you may ask, is a person whose very name has become synonymous with treason, included in a blog about heroes?  Well, before he became a traitor he was a hero of the Battle of Saratoga, which was one of the turning points of the War.  By late 1777 the Continental Army was in trouble.  It had lost battle after battle.   Morale was low.  Most soldiers were not being paid.  Many had no decent clothes.  Food was scarce.  Desertion was rampant.  Most of the army consisted of volunteers with a fixed end to their enlistment, and many of them were not re-enlisting.   Against this backdrop, the British hatched a plan for a decisive victory that would, perhaps, end the war.  General Howe, who commanded a sizeable force in NYC, was to march up the Hudson.  General Burgoyne was to march down from Canada.  They were planning to meet in the Albany-Saratoga area, catch the colonial army in a pincer, and cut the colonies in two.  General Arnold was the second-in-command of the Continental forces at Saratoga under General Gates.  Gates was a timid, perhaps even cowardly, leader. He was reluctant to fight.  Arnold was brave and aggressive with a grating personality.  Also, he felt strongly he had not been given his due credit for prior successes.  He was irate over the fact that others who were inferior leaders but better connected, politically, had been promoted over him.  He kept agitating Gates to attack, which annoyed Gates.   The two men despised each other.   Finally, Gates sent Arnold’s unit on a mission with very little chance of success.  His aim was to have Arnold either fail and be discredited or killed.  But, Arnold led his troops to an unlikely victory over Burgoyne’s numerically superior force.   Inexplicably, Howe’s army never showed up, so the colonials had the major victory they sorely needed.  However, to Arnold’s dismay, Gates took all the credit.  This likely started Arnold down the path to his ultimate treason.
  4. Deborah Sampson – Sampson was one of a very few women who served in combat during the war.  What was so unusual was that she fought disguised as a man named Robert Shirtliff.  She was able to pass as a man, because she was 5′ 9″ (The average height for a man of that time was only 5′ 6″.) and stout of build with small breasts that were easily hidden.  She served in a light infantry unit, which was considered an elite force that often participated in very dangerous missions.  She was wounded three times.  Her ruse was discovered while she was being treated for those wounds.   Nevertheless, she received an honorable discharge and was approved for a small pension for her service.
  5. Lafayette and von Steuben – In the first few years of the war the colonial soldiers, who were primarily farmers and laborers, were a ragtag fighting force, lacking the precision, discipline, and training of a real, professional army.   Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was a very wealthy teenage French aristocrat.  He was so determined to fight for the colonials that he purchased his own ship to travel to America.  Once there, he joined General Washington’s army at Valley Forge.  Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was an experienced professional Prussian soldier who was recommended to Benjamin Franklin by the French minister of war.  Franklin, in turn, recommended him to Washington.  Together these two men transformed the aforementioned ragtag group into a professional fighting force in just a few months during the winter of 1777-78.  Without them, it is doubtful the colonials would have succeeded.
  6. General Nathaniel Greene – It’s been said “an army travels on its stomach.”  As discussed, during the winter of 1777-78 the colonials were very short of food, clothing and other basic supplies.  The situation was dire.  Washington appointed Greene as quartermaster general, making him responsible for procurement.  He aggressively scoured the countryside and one way or another acquired enough supplies to sustain the army through the winter.
  7. Jack Jouett –  Jouett’s contribution was subtle, but crucial.  The British army was continually hunting for the key leaders of the revolution.  In January 1781 a company of dragoons was closing in on the entire group of Virginia legislators who were in hiding near Charlottesville.  This group included Thomas Jefferson and three other signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Killing or capturing them would have been a substantial coup.  At one point, the dragoons stopped at a tavern for rest and refreshment.  Jouett, a patron at the tavern, happened to overhear them conversing.  Discerning their mission, he jumped on his horse and rode through the night to where he knew the legislators were located.  In a Virginia version of Paul Revere’s ride he warned the legislators, thus enabling them to avoid capture.
  8. Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson – Jackson was a widow living in the Carolinas.  During a cholera outbreak among American prisoners of war she volunteered as a nurse at the prison.  Her oldest son had died in the war and the other two had been captured and imprisoned by the British some distance away.  The older of the two, Robert, was seriously ill; the younger of the two, Andy Jr., just 14, had been severely injured.  Determined not to lose them too, she traveled to their prison and somehow convinced their jailers to include them in a prison exchange, which no doubt saved their lives.  Then, they made the long trip home with only two horses for the three of them.  Robert, being delirious, rode. Andy walked.  Soon after they returned home Robert died, but Andy survived.  “Andy” was Andrew Jackson, who, as we know, became the hero of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, arguably one of the most significant battles in US history, and the seventh President of the US.

CONCLUSION

In my opinion, the American Revolution was one of the biggest “upsets” in history.  There is no way a ragtag fighting force with no navy at the beginning of the war and very little financing should have been able to defeat the finest fighting force in the world, particularly when it had to battle half of its own citizenry as well as the British.  But, it did, and in no small part to the contributions and sacrifices of ordinary patriots, such as the ones outlined above.

BOXING DAY

Yesterday, December 26, many countries, notably the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries that were formerly part of the British Empire, celebrated a holiday known as Boxing Day.  Many of those who are unfamiliar with the holiday erroneously assume it is associated with pugilism.  That is not the case.

BD is considered a secular holiday, however, some countries celebrate a religious holiday on December 26.  For example, Germany, The Netherlands and Poland, celebrate the day as a “Second Christmas Day.”  In the Catalonia region of Spain the day is celebrated as “St. Stephen’s Day.”

BD’s origins are murky.  There are various theories.  Based on my research it appears that the holiday can be traced at least to Medieval England where it was customary for the aristocracy to allow their servants to spend the day after Christmas with their families.  After all, the servants were obligated to serve their masters on Christmas rather then spend the holiday with their families.  Each servant would receive a “box” containing food, clothing, and/or other gifts to bring home to their families.  Over time, this practice was extended to tradesmen and others who performed services for the aristocrats.  The earliest mention of the term “Christmas box” was in Samuel Pepys’ diary in 1663.  (Pepys was a member of Parliament during the 17th century who was famous for keeping a diary.)  Others believe the day’s roots go back to Roman times when it was customary to place a metal box, aka the Alms Box, outside the church during the “Feast of St. Stephen” to collect donations for the poor.

BD celebrations vary from country to country.  For instance:

  1. In the UK it is a bank holiday.  If it falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, it is celebrated on the following Monday or Tuesday, respectively.
  2. In Ireland it is celebrated on December 26, regardless of which day of the week it falls on, as St. Stephens Day.
  3. In Australia it is a federal holiday.  In the state of South Australia it is celebrated as “Proclamation Day.”
  4. In Canada and New Zealand BD is celebrated as a statutory holiday; that is, it is celebrated on December 26 regardless of the day of the week.
  5. In Nigeria BD is celebrated on December 26 as a public holiday for workers and students.  If it falls on Saturday or Sunday, it is observed on the following Monday.
  6. In some countries, notably Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand BD is a huge shopping day, akin to “Black Friday” in the US.  Retailers have extended hours and hold sales.  Shoppers line up early just like on “Black Friday.”  Much like in the US, retailers have expanded the Christmas shopping season in order to generate additional revenue.  Some retailers in those countries have expanded the period of observation to “Boxing Week.”
  7. In addition, all of the aforementioned countries hold a variety of sporting events to mark the day (soccer, rugby, cricket, horse racing, ice hockey, even boxing).

CONCLUSION

For most Americans December 26 is a day to extend the Christmas holiday and, in some cases, to “recuperate” from it.  However you chose to spend the day I hope you enjoyed it.

 

OH MY!

On Thursday, we lost one of the most iconic and versatile sportscasters of this generation, Dick Enberg.  During a 60 year career Enberg had the opportunity to call games in virtually every major sport for virtually every television network, as well as some radio networks, at both the college and professional levels.  His career, like one of his famous catchphrases “touched ’em all.”

Richard Alan Enberg was born on January 9, 1935 in Mount Clemens, MI.  His ancestry on his father’s side was Finnish.  His grandparents, like many immigrants, had changed the family name (in this case, from Katajavuori to the Swedish equivalent, Enberg), in order to appear more American.  Enberg’s mother’s family was a classic melting pot – English, French, German, and American Indian.

Enberg earned a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University and a graduate degree from Indiana University.  He began his career while still a student, working for the radio station WSAM, which broadcast Detroit Tigers’ baseball games.

As I said, during his 60 year career he was extremely prolific, announcing a multitude of sports on virtually every tv network and on radio.  The following are just a sampling of his work:

  1. Football – (a) Broadcast LA Rams football; (b) play-by-play for Indiana Hoosiers games; (c) lead announcer for NBC for NFL games; (d) called eight Super Bowls; (e)called Rose Bowl games; (f) during the 1982 NFL players’ strike called Canadian Football games;

2.  Baseball –

a.  Broadcast California Angels games.  When they won he would sign off with the catchphrase “And the halo shines tonight,” in reference to the symbol of the team which would be lit up on the scoreboard after every victory; (b) was the voice of the San Diego Padres; (c) called several World Series;

3.  Basketball – (a) play-by-play for Indiana Hoosiers; (b) 1961 NCAA championship game (only shown live in Ohio); (c) in 1968 called the “Game of the Century” between Elvin Hayes’ Houston Cougars and UCLA’s Lew Alcindor; (d) in 1979 called the NCAA Championship game between Magic Johnson’s Michigan State and Larry Bird’s Indiana State teams; (e) called NBA games for several years for NBC;

4.  Boxing – (a) announcer for matches at LA’s Olympic Auditorium; (b) called various  heavyweight bouts

5.  Other sports he called included tennis majors, golf majors, horse racing and the Olympics.

6.  He wrote a one-man play called “McGuire” as a tribute to one of his former broadcast partners, Al McGuire.

Also, Enberg was prolific on tv and in the movies.  He appeared on tv shows, such as The King of Queens and CSI NY.  He hosted game shows, such as Sports Challenge and The Perfect Match.   He lent his voice to Where’s Huddles, a cartoon series.  He appeared in several movies, such as Two-Minute Warning and Heaven Can Wait.  He appeared in commercials and as the announcer in “Talking Football,” a Mattel tabletop game.

CONCLUSION

Enberg received countless honors, such as:

  1. 13 sports Emmys, as well as being the only sportscaster to win Emmys in broadcasting, writing and producing.
  2. Nine National Sportscaster of the Year awards
  3. The American Sportscasters Association ranked him #10 on its listing of the Top 50 Sportscasters of all time.
  4. Induction into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame
  5. A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Enberg died suddenly on December 21 of a suspected coronary.  He was active to the end.  In fact, he was found in his home with his bags packed, undoubtedly in preparation for an engagement.

He will be forever remembered for his iconic catchphrase in celebration of an outstanding athletic play, “OH MY.”

TAX CUTS AND JOBS ACT

I would like to clear up some misconceptions about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) recently signed into law.  Right off the bat, I will stipulate that the law is not perfect.  Name me one law that is.  No one group got everything it wanted.  The law is a compendium of compromises, as it should be in a democracy.

That said, the law is being completely mischaracterized by many of the Dems and the mainstream press.  For example, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, among others, have characterized it as a “giveaway for the rich” and detrimental to the “middle class.”  Bernie Sanders has trotted out his favorite whipping boy – the “billionaires.”  (According to Wikipedia there were only some 500 billionaires in the US in 2016, and they are a heterogeneous group – white, black, Hispanic, liberal and conservative – yet he acts as if they are homogeneous, omnipresent and evil personified.  He blames them for everything except the weather.)

These criticisms are what one of my ex-bosses used to deride as “wandering generalities.”  I have to laugh at these disingenuous oversimplifications, particularly since these same politicians declined to participate in the drafting of the law.  They offered no suggestions or alternatives when given the opportunity.  In my view, having opted out of the process they have no standing to criticize the result.

Regardless of the particulars of the TCJA, common sense would tell you that not all “rich” people will “make out like bandits,” and not all “middle class” households will be disadvantaged.  Those two groups are not homogeneous at all.  Their individual situations are governed by a multitude of variables, such as, for instance, where they live, their age, the size of their families, whether they are retired or still working, etc.

Therefore, in order to give the TCJA an objective analysis, it is imperative to cut through the political bloviating and hyperbole, and analyze the facts.  I will attempt to do so, but keep in mind I am not a tax professional.

First, it is necessary to define what, exactly, is the “middle class?”  Everybody has an opinion, but no one really knows for sure.  The answer seems to be it depends upon whom you ask.  Everyone has a different conception, and most everyone, if asked, will identify him or herself as “middle class.”  The best definition of a middle class household I have found is one that earns income equal to between 66% and 200% of the median national income.  Currently, for a family of four that would be between $40,000 and $125,000.  Naturally, where one lives matters greatly.  $50,000 goes a lot further in Kansas or Alabama than in NY or SF.  Some people consider other factors as well, such as the level of education and type of occupation, but to keep this simple let’s just consider income, and let’s use $85,000, which is near the midpoint of $82,500.

According to a study by the Tax Foundation, under the TCJA the tax liability of a typical middle class family of four with an income of $85,000 would be reduced by $2,254, or 20%.  In fact, the TF presented eight examples of households earning from a low of $30,000 to a high of $2,000,000, and in each case their tax liability was lower.  The above household had the highest percentage savings, although, full disclosure, the $2,000,000 household had the highest dollar savings.  (Of course, the rich have a bigger tax liability to begin with, so even a small percentage results in a large dollar savings.)  The salient point of the survey is that the under TCJA a wide variety of households saved money.

One can argue incessantly over who benefits the most, but the fact of the matter is there are pros and cons for every household and every situation.  Some of the changes will help you; some will hurt you.  Don’t focus on one item that you may not like.   If you want to see how you come out, you have to actually run the numbers.

In particular, critics have been attacking the so-called SALT provision, the reduction in the corporate income tax rate, the healthcare mandate, and the estate tax exemption.

  1. There is no doubt that the SALT restriction will impact most adversely households that own expensive homes in high-income locales, such as NY, Boston, San Francisco and LA and their suburbs.   Both property values and income tend to be higher there.  However, the likelihood is that most of those households earn well in excess of $125,000 per year.  That income level, however, is not “middle class.”  It  would put them in the “upper middle class” ($125,000 – $300,000), or, maybe even in the “rich class.”  Moreover, many of these households will be able to mitigate or, perhaps, offset, any increase due to SALT by taking advantage of the increase in the standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000 and/or the lower tax rates.  According to the IRS, already, approximately 2/3 of filers use the standard deduction, so it stands to reason that, much if not most, of the “middle class” does.  Again, common sense would tell you that more households would do so, prospectively.  A further benefit would be that fewer households would be subject to the onerous “alternative minimum tax.”
  2. The critics like to demonize the corporate tax cut.  Regarding publicly-held corporations one can argue whether or not the tax cut will be beneficial to the country, as a whole.  In my opinion, it likely will, as have previous ones.  Publicly-held corporations consist of individuals who work for them.  Generally, if corporations pay less taxes, they make more money.  They use that money either to pay dividends to their shareholders, increase compensation, and/or to expand, which causes them to hire more workers.  All of those would be beneficial to the economy.  Some corporations, such as Apple, have already announced company-wide bonuses.  Remember, anyone who owns a 401k, 403b, or IRA likely owns stock in these corporations, so anything that benefits the corporations passes through to them.  According to the Government Accountability Office in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available , some 43 million taxpayers own at least one IRA with a total value in excess of $5 trillion.  Those numbers are probably higher now.

According to the US Census Bureau there were approximately 28 million small    businesses in the US in 2010.  Many, if not most, of these were family-owned by “middle class” households.  According to the Small Business Association since 1995 small businesses have generated 64% of all new jobs.  So, a tax cut that helps small businesses is very beneficial to the country.  And, yet, the critics would have you believe that this tax cut is going solely to multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporations.

3.         With respect to the healthcare mandate the critics are saying it will leave some 13 million persons without healthcare.  Perhaps, but it will be pursuant to their choice.  Under the mandate, there were a goodly number of persons who were required to purchase health insurance whether they wanted it or not.  In my opinion, the constitutionality of the mandate was dubious anyway.

4.  Criticism of the estate tax exemption has some merit.  However, it should be noted it will not benefit only the very rich.  Many small business owners, ranchers and farmers may also benefit.  Also, generally, the very rich have the wherewithal to plan their estates to avoid or mitigate estate tax, anyway.

CONCLUSION

I apologize for being so long-winded.  I tried to be as concise as possible.  In summary, don’t listen to all the hyperbole and disingenuous criticisms you may hear.  The TCJA may not be perfect, but I think it a reasonable law that will benefit the country, as a whole.

Next month, workers will begin to see benefits firsthand in their paychecks.  As for long term benefits, time will tell.

 

IRAN NUKE DEAL DECEPTION

As we all know, the Iran Nuke Deal executed by the Obama administration has proven to be very controversial.  In my opinion, we gave up a lot for very dubious benefits.  Be that as it may, the purpose of this blog is not to argue the merits and demerits of that deal.  Suffice to say, it is very controversial.  Some people like it; others don’t.

The purpose of this blog is to examine a hidden aspect of this deal, one which we are now learning about that, heretofore, was hidden not only from the American people, but also from Congress as they voted on the deal.  The following story was first reported by Politico’s Josh Meyer.  It reflects very badly on the Obama administration, which pursued the Nuke Deal very aggressively and spent considerable political capital to finalize it.  As is often the case with a negative story about the Obama Administration, CBS, NBC and ABC have ignored it.  Only Fox has reported it extensively, so if you don’t watch Fox chances are you don’t know about it.

The essence of the story is as follows:

  1. As we know, Hezbollah is a terrorist arm funded and supported by the Iranian government.  Its members have been fighting alongside Iranian troops in Syria and Iraq.  Iran has long employed Hezbollah operatives to foment terror attacks and has provided needed funding, sanctuary and other support for it.
  2. Hezbollah had established a sizeable drug trafficking and money laundering operation.  A significant part of that operation was teaming up with Mexican drug cartels to sell drugs in the US.
  3. This operation was providing a considerable amount of funds that were used to support Hezbollah’s terrorist activities.
  4. The DEA was running a major investigation of that operation called “Operation Cassandra” and was closing in on key members of the group.  Over an eight-year period, the DEA had employed wire taps, undercover operatives and informants.  It had traced cocaine shipments through a labyrinthine route through Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and, finally, to the US.  It had tied the network to the “innermost circle)[s]” of Hezbollah and Iran.  It appears it had them “dead to rights.”
  5. Shutting down the operation would have had a dual benefit: (1) Obviously, it would have significantly reduced the supply of drugs entering the US. (As an illustration of the gravity of the domestic drug problem I should like to denote that according to the CDC some 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses during the 12 month period ending January 2017.) (2) It would have denied Hezbollah of its primary source of revenue.
  6. It appears that members of the Obama Administration, fearing the DEA operation might impair the delicate negotiations with Iran, shut down the DEA investigation.  How?  The Justice Department declined to file charges against any of the major players or a Lebanese Bank that was at the center of the money laundering scheme.  Also, agents working on the operation were re-assigned.
  7. One of Meyer’s sources was David Asher, who was one of the primary operatives in “Cassandra.”  Asher told him the Administration “serially ripped apart [the] entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”
  8. For example, the Czech government had arrested and was holding Ali Fayad for extradition to the US.  Fayad had been indicted by US courts for murder and other serious crimes.  Furthermore, the DEA suspected him to be a major Hezbollah operative in the drug network and a major weapons supplier in Iraq and Syria with a direct link to Vladimir Putin.  Rather than pressuring the Czech government to extradite him, the Obama Administration stood down (perhaps, under lobbying pressure from Putin), and Fayad was released.  Now, safely ensconced in Lebanon, he has returned to his old ways, supplying arms to Iranian-backed terrorists.
  9. Another example concerns “the Ghost,” who is reputed to be one of the largest cocaine traffickers and arms dealers in the world.   DEA officials claim the Obama Administration hindered their efforts to pursue him as well.
  10. Of course, representatives of the Obama Administration who were willing to go on the record have disputed elements of this story, but such defenses appear weak.  For example, spokesman Kevin Lewis, who worked at both the Justice Department and the Obama White House, denoted that other Hezbollah operatives were also arrested and held by other countries.  True, but, Meyer reported that these arrests occurred after the nuke deal had been consummated.

CONCLUSION

There is considerably more to this story, but this is a blog, not a book, so I have only presented a brief summary.  Those of us who remember the vigor with which the press pursued the Iran-Contra Deal and the weapons of mass destruction controversies during the Reagan and Bush 43 Administrations, respectively, hope the mainstream press will pursue this story with the same zeal.  I won’t hold my breath.

In any event, there is no excuse for hiding this from the American people or, worse, from Congress as they were voting to approve the deal.  As you may recall, the deal was very controversial, and the vote was close.  It was “sold” as a means to get Iran to suspend its nuclear program (a dubious proposition) in return for just lifting sanctions.  Later, we found out about a sizeable cash payment to Iran, which was bad enough.  Now, this story, if true, casts a pall on the entire agreement and, by extension, President Obama’s legacy.

HISTORY THIS MONTH – DECEMBER

More painless history.  Many historically-significant events have occurred during the month of December.  Below please find what I consider the most significant:

12/1/1955 – Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgonery, AL for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man.  This action precipitated a year-long bus boycott and many other protests against segregation led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, among others, and was what many consider the seminal event for the civil rights movement.

12/2/1804 – Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France by Pope Pius VII.

12/2/1823 – President James Monroe articulated the “Monroe Doctrine,” which, essentially, forbad any further colonization of the Western Hemisphere by any European power, and which became a key element of the US’s foreign policy prospectively.

12/2/1954 – The Senate condemned Senator Joseph McCarthy for misconduct, effectively ending his irresponsible communist witch hunt.

12/3/1967 – Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa.

12/6/1492 – Christopher Columbus “discovered” the “New World,” landing at the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

12/6/1865 – The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, which abolished slavery.

12/6/1973 – Gerald Ford was sworn in as vice president replacing Spiro Agnew who had been forced to resign following his pleading “no contest” to charges of income tax evasion.

12/7/1787 – Delaware became the first state to ratify the US constitution.

12/7/1941 – Japan perpetrated a surprise attack of the US naval base at Pearl Harbor destroying the US Pacific Fleet and precipitating the US’s entry into WWII.  FDR called it a “date that will live in infamy,” and it has.

12/10/1896 – Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel died.  In his will he stipulated that a committee of the Norwegian Parliament award from his estate annual prizes (valued at approximately $1 million) for Peace, Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature and Economics.

12/11/1901 – Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first transatlantic radio signal.

12/11/1936 – King Edward VIII abdicated the English throne in order to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson.

12/13/1642 – Dutch navigator Abel Tasman discovered New Zealand.

12/14/1799 – George Washington dies at Mt. Vernon.

12/14/1911 – Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole.

12/15/1791 – Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the Bill of Rights making it an official part of the Constitution.  (Ratification of an amendment to the Constitution requires 75% of the states, and Vermont had become the 14th state.  The three holdouts were Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia, which did not ratify it until 1939.)

12/15/1961 –  Notorious Nazi SS Colonel Adolph Eichmann was sentenced to death in Jerusalem for his role in the Holocaust during WWII.

12/16/1773 –  A group of Bostonians, disguised as Indians, boarded British ships anchored in Boston Harbor and dumped 300+ containers of tea overboard as a protest to what they viewed as an unjust tax on the product.  This became known as the Boston Tea Party and was a part of the chain of events that culminated in the American Revolutionary War.

12/17/1903 – The Wright Brothers – Wilbur and Orville – made the first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, NC.

12/19/1946 – War broke in what was then called French-Indochina.  Eventually, the French were ousted, and the US got drawn into war in Viet Nam, which did not end well for us.

12/20/1860 – South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.  Over the next few months ten other states followed, and the Civil War ensued.

12/21/1846 –  Dr. Robert Liston was the first surgeon to use anesthesia (in a leg amputation in London).

12/21/1945 – General George Patton, aka “Old Blood and Guts,” died from injuries suffered in a car accident in Germany.  Some historians have postulated that the accident was intentional, but this has never been proven.

12/23/1947 – The transistor was invented at Bell Laboratories.

12/25 – Christmas Day when Christians commemorate the birth of Christ.

12/25/1776 – George Washington led a small contingent of Colonial troops across the Delaware River from Valley Forge, PA to Trenton, NJ in the dead of night, where they surprised and defeated a substantially larger contingent of Hessian mercenaries.  This daring and famous victory provided a major boost to the flagging revolutionary war effort.

12/26 – Boxing Day is celebrated in the UK, Canada, and various other countries that, formerly, were part of the British Empire.  It has nothing to do with pugilism.  Most likely, it has evolved from the 18th Century English custom of giving a “Christmas box” containing gifts, such as food or clothes, to servants and tradesmen as a reward for good service throughout the year.

12/26 – 1/1 – Kwanza, an African – American holiday established in 1966, is observed.  It celebrates family unity and a bountiful harvest.  The word means “first fruit” in Swahili.

12/29/1890 – The US cavalry massacred in excess of 200 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee, SD., which became a symbol of the white man’s brutality to Native Americans.

12/31/1781 – The Bank of North America became the first bank to receive a federal charter.  It commenced business on January 7, 1782 in Philadelphia.

12/31/1879 – Inventor Thomas Edison’s first demonstrated the incandescent lamp (light bulb) at his lab in NJ.

12/31/ –  New Year’s Eve is celebrated throughout the world.

Birthdays – Charles Stuart, American portrait painter (of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among others), 12/3/1755; Joseph Conrad, Polish novelist, 12/3/1857; Martin Van Buren, 8th President, 12/5/1782; General George Armstrong Custer, 12/5/1839; Walt Disney; 12/5/1901; Ira Gershwin (wrote several hit songs for “Broadway” shows), 12/6/1896; Eli Whitney (cotton gin), 12/8/1765; Clarence Birdseye (invented process for freezing foods), 12/9/1886; Emily Dickenson (poet), 12/10/1830; Melvil Dewey (invented Dewey decimal system used to categorize books in libraries), 12/10/1851; NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia,12/11/1882; John Jay (first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), 12/12/1745; General James Doolittle (led audacious bombing raid on Tokyo during WWII), 12/14/1896; Alexandre Eifel (Eifel Tower), 12/15/1832; Ludwig van Beethoven (composer), 12/16/1770; George Santayana (philosopher) (“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”), 12/16/1863; Wily Brandt (Chancellor of West Germany), 12/18/1913; Harvey Firestone (Firestone Tire and Rubber), 12/20/1868; Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvli, aka Josef Stalin, 12/21/1879; Claudia Alta Taylor, aka “Lady Bird Johnson,” 12/22/1912; Japanese WWII Emperor Hirohito, 12/23/1901; Christopher “Kit” Carson, frontiersman, 12/24/1809; Howard Hughes, 12/24/1905; Isaac Newton (theory of gravity), 12/25/1642; Clara Barton (nurse who founded American Red Cross), 12/25/1821; Humphrey Bogart, 12/25/1899; Mao Tse-Tung, 12/26/1893; Louis Pasteur (pasteurization process), 12/27/1822; (Thomas) Woodrow Wilson, 28th President, 12/28/1856; Andrew Johnson (17th president, first to be impeached), 12/29/1808; Pablo Casals (cellist), 12/28/1876; Rudyard Kipling (poet, wrote Jungle Book), 12/30/1865; Hideki Tojo (Japanese WWII Prime Minister), 12/30/1884; General George C. Marshall (Army Chief of Staff, WWII), 12/31/1880.

MOVIE QUOTES

With all the bad news in the world today, I thought we could all use a change of pace.  Therefore, below please find a quiz of famous movie quotes.  If you are a movie buff, it should not be too difficult.

Good luck, and no peeking at the internet.  This is not an “open book” quiz.

  1. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” – (a) Platoon; (b) The Deer Hunter; (c) Apocalypse Now; (d) Hurt Locker
  2. “They call me Mr. Tibbs” – (a) In the Heat of the Night; (b) Mr. Tibbs; (c) Mr. Tibbs II; (d) Raisin in the Sun
  3. “Here’s looking at you, kid” – (a) The Maltese Falcon; (b) The Guns of Navarone; (c) The African Queen; (d) Casablanca
  4. Stella!” – (a) A Streetcar Named Desire; (b) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; (c) Stella Goes to Mardi Gras; (d) On the Waterfront
  5. “A martini, shaken, not stirred – (a) Dr. No; (b) Goldfinger; (c) From Russia with Love; (d) Thunderball
  6. “Show me the money” – (a) Greed; (b) Jerry Maguire; (c) Wall Street; (d) The Great Gadsby
  7. “I want to be alone” – (a) Sleepless in Seattle; (b) It Happened One Night; (c) Grand Hotel; (d) The Good Earth
  8. “Toga!  Toga!” – (a) Animal House; (b) Ben Hur; (c) Gladiator; (d) The Ten Commandments
  9. “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too” – (a) Turner and Hootch; (b) Alice in Wonderland; (c) The Wizard of Oz; (d) Shrek
  10. “You know how to whistle, Steve?  You just put your lips together and blow.” – (a) Funny Girl; (b) Cover Girl; (c) The Days of Wine and Roses; (d) To Have and Have Not
  11. “Tomorrow is another day.” – (a) Django; (b) The Last King of Scotland; (c)  Gone with the Wind; (d) The Help
  12. “You want me to hold the chicken, huh?  [Yes.]  I want you to hold it between your knees.”  – (a) Five Easy Pieces; (b) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; (c) All About Eve; (d) Sunset Boulevard
  13. “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” (a) Mommie Dearest; (b) Psycho; (c) Big Mama; (d) Mama Leone
  14. “Hello gorgeous.” – (a) Tootsie; (b) Some Like It Hot; (c) Funny Girl; (d) Chicago
  15. “It was beauty killed the beast.” – (a) Beauty and the Beast; (b) Godzilla!; (c) Mighty Joe Young; (d) King Kong
  16. “You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star.” – (a) 42nd Street; (b) Mame; (c) Funny Girl; (d) Chicago
  17. “If you build it, he will come” – (a) The Natural; (b) Bull Durham; (c) The Babe Ruth Story; (d) Field of Dreams
  18. “There’s no crying in baseball.” – (a) Major League; (b) Eight Men Out; (c) The Pride of the Yankees; (d) A League of Their Own
  19. “I’ll have what she’s having.” (a) When Harry Met Sally; (b) Romancing the Stone; (c) Sleepless in Seattle; (d) Dude Ranch
  20. “Funny? How? Like a clown?  I’m here to fxxxin amuse you?” (a) Scarface; (b) Angels with Dirty Faces; (c) Public Enemy; (d) Goodfellas

Answers: 1. (c); 2. (a); 3. (d); 4. (a); 5. (b); 6. (b); 7. (c); 8. (a); 9. (c); 10. (d); 11. (c); 12. (a); 13. (b); 14. (c); 15. (d); 16. (a); 17. (d); 18. (d); 19. (a); 20. (d)

 

 

PRESIDENT TRUMP AND JERUSALEM

Sometimes, a situation just calls for decisive action.  Sometimes, a leader just has to have the conviction to do what he thinks is the right thing, regardless of what others, friend or foe, may think or do, regardless of politics, regardless of the polls.  That is what makes a strong leader.  That is what President Trump did last week when he announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will be relocating its embassy there.

Thus, the president deviated from seven decades of US Middle East policy.  For decades, one president after another has promised to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and one after another they have reneged on that promise.  The entire international community has maintained that Jerusalem, which contains sites sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, should remain a neutral site believing that to be the lynchpin of a lasting peace settlement.

That approach has failed miserably and unequivocally.  A state of tension, conflict, terrorism and, at times, war has continued to exist between Israel and its Arab neighbors for those seven decades.   Many of these neighbors have never recognized Israel’s sovereignty and have threatened to destroy it.  So, one could argue that the region is further away from a lasting peace than it has ever been.  It wasn’t as if the region was on the cusp of a lasting peace settlement, which is now ruined anyway.

Mr. Trump followed through on his campaign promise.  Why should we be so shocked?  “Today, we [the US] finally acknowledge the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” he said.  “This is nothing more than a recognition of reality.  It is also the right thing to do.”

In anticipation of the fallout Mr. Trump reiterated the US’s commitment to remaining neutral and helping the Israelis and the Palestinians reach a peaceful settlement.  Moreover, he stated that this action does not mean the US is taking any stance on the final status or boundaries of Jerusalem.  “Those questions are up to the parties involved,” he opined.

Reaction was swift and predictable:

  1. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, opined on CNN that it would “move the ball forward for the peace process. ….. What this does is just [recognize] what’s real.”
  2. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, characterized the president’s action as “courageous and just,” and he pledged that “Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims, alike.”  I believe that, and I also believe that it would not be the case if Muslims controlled the city.
  3. Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said President Trump’s decision “disqualified the US [from playing] any role in any peace process.”
  4. Jordan’s King Abdullah claimed it would “undermine efforts to resume the peace process and [would] provoke Muslims and Christians alike.”
  5. Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el Sissi stated it would “undermine the chances of peace.”

Predictably, the aftermath included riots and clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli police in Jerusalem and elsewhere.  Protestors burned American flags and pictures of President Trump.  In addition, Palestinians declared “three days of rage,” which caused many schools and business establishments to close.

CONCLUSION

I applaud President’s Trump’s action as well as his courage and conviction to do what was right.  My opinion is that he made a campaign promise, and he fulfilled it.  Isn’t that what we want our politicians to do?

I believe Israel, like any other country, has the right to designate its own capital city.  Furthermore, Jerusalem has been functioning as the de facto capital of Israel anyway.

In my view, for years, the world has been bending over backwards to appease the Palestinians in hopes of encouraging them to cease hostilities, and it has not worked.  It is long since time to recognize reality.  Besides, what, really, is there to lose.  The peace process has been stalled anyway.  The region is as far away from a lasting peace as ever.  Many of the Arab states in the region provide funding, training sites, personnel and safe havens for terrorists.  For the most part, their hatred for Israel and the US is intractable and will remain so regardless of what we do.  So, I repeat, what, really is there to lose?

I look upon this action as signaling to the world steadfast support for a strong, reliable ally.  I think that all Americans, not just Jews, should support it.