Monday, October 31, 2011

Pre-Occupation With Wall Street

I have watched and read quite a bit about the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, which began in New York and has since spread to a number of other locales. 

While some demonstrations number in the thousands, other groups would be challenged to occupy an elevator. 

As much as I try, it's hard for me to grasp the message of the Occupy movement.  Rich people bad, everyone else good?  Wealth should be re-distributed?  Corporate "fat cats" need to be held accountable?  Basic cable and 4G for all?

I understand the frustration, even anger, which is real, and palpable. 

For the most part, Occupy protesters are upset that so much is in the hands of so few.  The so-called "1%" control most of our nation's wealth while the other 99% feel like they're looking in with lips pressed against a real life snow globe.

A CBS/New York Times poll shows that 42% of Americans majority agree with the views of the occupy movement.  But what are the views?

As much as I love a good poll, this one reminds me of when Congress sends out "constituent surveys" with loaded questions like, "Should your tax dollars be used to build nuclear bombs instead of providing food and shelter to innocent, defenseless puppies?"
The Occupy movement is real, but the agenda, and sustainability, are unclear.

Some have tried to equate Occupy with the Tea Party.  But the Tea Party, from the beginning, was a movement with a political agenda. 
Say what you like about Tea Partiers, but they came, they saw, they conquered.  They altered the  landscape in 2010 by setting an agenda and running candidates for Congress.  Loud ones. 

So far the Occupiers operate outside the political realm.  In fact, I saw Democratic Congressman Barney Frank pleading with protesters the other night to not cast aside the political process, even though most politicians have avoided Occupy like Donald Trump avoids the subway.

Perhaps the real "threat" or lasting impact of the Occupy movement is that the ranks of disenfranchised voters will grow, affecting future election turnout and leadership.  

I hope not.  Free speech is a precious right, and a responsibility. 

What's your take on the Occupy movement?  I would enjoy hearing from you.

Friday, October 21, 2011

He Had Me At Hello

I found myself watching David Letterman the other night, which is rare.  I can count on one foot the number of times I have watched Letterman through the years. 

Former President Bill Clinton was the guest and I was struck by two things:

1)  Clinton looks great.  In fact, sans the gray hair he looks better than he did twenty years ago.

2)  I love listening to a politician freed from politics, able to speak their mind without a the proverbial cup in hand. 

There weren't any great revelations but Clinton was in his element, relaxed and ever eloquent. 

I have read commentary lately about President Obama's disdain for "retail politics," the daily, one-on-one, behind the scenes aspect of public office. 

Obama, the theory goes, is more comfortable in front of large audiences than in smaller settings.  He's not particularly interested in working the phones and cashing in chits with members of Congress.  One writer speculated that Obama likes humanity, but not human beings.  

It's certainly debatable to what extent backslapping skills are necessary for a Commander in Chief.   And connecting with Congress today must feel like knocking on a steel door.  Once "inside," even infomercial king Billy Mays would probably wind up kicked in the teeth like Willy Loman.  

President Bill Clinton was a master glad hander, the most effective in my lifetime.  

Watching Clinton on Letterman, I felt the power of a man who simultaneously compelled two individuals (Letterman and I) along with an audience.  He had me hooked for days after.  Ask my wife, who is convinced I have a man crush.

Many years ago I had a client, a staunch conservative who had the opportunity to meet then candidate for president Clinton.  "I don't agree with Bill Clinton about anything," he said, "but believe me, when he shook my hand and looked me in the eye, I was the only person in the room."

That I believe.  I doubt Bill Clinton ever leaves a room without trying to connect with everyone.  His Rolodex could power a river boat. 

The most effective politicians master the public and personal; salesmanship and empathy.  Despite his personal failings, Bill Clinton was effective working a room and getting legislation passed. 

The man is persuasive.  Heck, he got me to sit through an hour of late night T.V.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Author Jeff Pearlman's new Walter Payton biography, "Sweetness," has some unflattering details about the Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back.  In the book, Pearlman alleges that Payton had affairs, battled depression and abused pain killers.

I have not read "Sweetness," though I did read the Sports Illustrated excerpt containing the allegations, which I found interesting but hardly surprising.  Most Chicagoans have heard rumors of Payton's infidelity through the years, while pain killers and depression were ooh so common for players active in the 1970's. 

In fact, the "broken down jock" narrative would make a good county music song:  Legendary player (insert name) struggles with life after (insert sport), finances and marriage fall apart while depression and addictions intensify. 

Jeff Pearlman insists his book is a balanced look at an enigmatic man, a "definitive" biography, in his words. 

We could debate what, if anything, is out of bounds when writing about a public figure, and to what extent they should be "outed" for their shortcomings.   A good biography paints a complete picture, which often isn't pretty. 

For the record, I am as objective here as a life insurance salesman in a maternity ward.  Walter Payton was my childhood hero and the greatest football player I have ever seen. 

I was in 4th grade in 1977 when Payton rushed for an NFL record 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings.  I remember the game, and I remember proudly wearing my Walter Payton "iron-on" from the local sports page a few days later.  And every day until the t-shirt fell off my back. 

Walter Payton was Zeus in shoulder pads.  So quick, so strong, so tough.  With legs churning like pistons, he never stopped moving, redefining the football term "forward progress."

I never saw Sweetness take an initial hit.  Payton rarely "got hit."  He always delivered the blow, with a stiff arm I'm sure felt like being struck by an AMC Pacer. 

Walter Payton played on some lousy teams, in a city of lousy teams.  He was our collective hope back when Chicago was home to more dog teams than the Yukon. 

Here's my Payton story:

My grade school was a block from Northwestern's Dyche Stadium, and in those days when the field was bad at Lake Forest College (yes kids, there was a time before practice domes and heated surfaces) the Bears bused to Evanston for practice on NU's artificial concrete, I mean turf.  My buds and I made the trip hoping for a sweatband, arm pad or autograph.  

One time I waited outside in the snow after practice, pen and paper in hand, when Walter Payton emerged from the locker room in his game uniform. 

A camera crew from Sports Illustrated was there to take Payton's picture for a cover story on the Bears.  I watched him approach the crew and insist that he wouldn't appear in any shot without his offensive line. 

As the crew and flunkies haggled over the photo spread, a line began to form as a Bears official herded us kids for autographs.  Inexplicably, I ended up in the back (should have thrown a stiff arm or two).  Payton walked up to the line, looked at the first kid and bellowed, "I'm starting at the back." 

I still have the runny, worn signature, and a glimpse into Walter Payton, the man. 

Sadly, we will never know whether Payton suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the progressive brain damage which strikes so many players, including his Super Bowl teammate Dave Duerson, who committed suicide earlier this year. 

Sweetness was gone too soon, but his legacy is timeless. 

Despite Jeff Pearlman's salacious morsels, Walter Payton will never be "semi-sweet."