Random thoughts about the Red Sox and the World Series

I am exhausted.  Let’s face it the sixteen games played to take home the World Series Trophy (our Mayor Menino calls it the World Series Cup) have been emotionally draining and the cause of much sleep deprivation.  And I don’t have to get up and go to work!  Tampa Bay, Detroit, and St. Louis were all tough opponents.  (By the way, one of my predictions finally came true:  Sox in 6.)

Here are a few random thoughts about the Sox.

Bib Papi hugs manger John Farrell

Bib Papi hugs manger John Farrell

David Ortiz was the MVP of the Series.  He had a ridiculous batting average of .688 and we got to watch him play first during the games in St. Louis as if he played there every game.  People were whining about the rules that took away the DH, but in the end it didn’t hurt the Sox.  Maybe it did make Mike Napoli a little rusty at the plate but he did get a hit last night.  The thing about Ortiz is that he is the first non-Yankee to win three World Series with the same team (2004, 2007, and 2013) since Jim Palmer with the Baltimore Orioles (1966, 1970 and 1983).  I learned that from a Tweet from Peter Abraham.  Big Papi is probably going to play one more season and then retire.  What a hole that will leave!

If you don’t think a manager makes a difference just study the styles of Bobby Valentine and John Farrell.  One had respect from day one and it produced a winning team.  I don’t know for a fact, but I suspect that Valentine was forced on general manager, Ben Cherington.   Nick Cafardo wrote in today’s Boston Globe

Ben Cherington hit .400, won the Triple Crown for general managers, and then won the World Series.

He picked the right manager, the right players, and still had an eye for the future. He traded only redundant players, such as Jose Iglesias in a three-way deal for Jake Peavy, knowing he had Xander Bogaerts.

Cherington deserved the bucket of champagne, let alone the bottle, as the architect of the 2013 World Series champions.

,,,

While the perception is Bobby Valentine was forced on him, Cherington was able to decide to fire him and deal for Farrell, the manager he wanted all along. He allowed Farrell to name his coaching staff and continue pretty much what Terry Francona had done with the team prior to the September 2011 collapse.

Cherington cleared out the poisonous players. And then he watched it. Maybe it wasn’t completely like he mapped it out, but close, real close.

“Once we got into the season you don’t know what the outcome was going to be, but this was a different group of people,” said Cherington. “They were completely selfless. It was a lot of fun to be around. It’ll sink in two weeks from now.”

He combined the desire to prove everyone wrong, the players with chips on their shoulders, with some new chemistry. He hit the jackpot.

Carlton Fisk, sporting a phony beard, and Luis Tiant, with a real one, threw out the first pitch.

Carlton Fisk, sporting a phony beard, and Luis Tiant, with a real one, threw out the first pitch.

And then the Sox had history.  Having former players like Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez, Mike Lowell, Dennis Eckersley and many others hanging around the team even if they weren’t formally coaching has to have been a plus.  Even Carlton Fisk entered into the fun.

Someday soon it will all seem real.  It will be hot stove time and Ben Cherington will have to get to work.  Will Jacoby Ellsbury give up boat loads of money and do what Dustin Pedroia did and take the hometown salary to stay?  What about Napoli?  Will Salty take his longest name on a jersey and move on – and more important – do we want him to stay?

But those are questions for another day.  Bring on the Duck Boats and let’s have a parade!

Photograph:  Ortiz and Farrell, stan grossfeld/globe staff

Photograph:  Fisk and Tiant, Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Poverty and microcredit

Ever since I read about Muhammad Yunus winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his Grameen Bank in his native Bangladeshi, I wondered why no one in the United States had thought of doing something similar for small businesses especially as credit got tighter.  Buried in the business section of yesterday’s New York Times was the story of the Grameen Bank in the Jackson Heights section of Queens.  There was microcredit offered in parts of the United States, I just didn’t know about it.  This, according to the Times story by Shaila Dewan, is how it works.

On a recent Thursday, dozens of Latina immigrants clustered in a small, noisy second-floor office in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, waiting for one of a half-dozen loan officers to call their names and hand over a check. Children loitered in the stairwell or sprawled, calflike, over their mothers’ laps.

The loans were recorded the old-fashioned way, with ink, in green passbooks that enumerated the borrowers’ commitments to “exercise responsible financial behavior,” “seek preventative health care” and meet each week in a “comfortable and safe place.” Aside from these words, little secured the loans in question, which ranged from $1,500 to $8,000.

In the United States, microcredit has generally been defined as loans of less than $50,000 to people — mostly entrepreneurs — who cannot, for various reasons, borrow from a bank. Most nonprofit microlenders include services like financial literacy training and business plan consultations, which contribute to the expense of providing such loans but also, those groups say, to the success of their borrowers.

Grameen America dispenses with the advice and makes smaller, less formal loans at a lower cost. It hews closely to the model developed in Bangladesh: borrowers form groups of five, approve one another’s loans and make weekly payments at 15 percent annual interest, a rate comparable to those charged by other nonprofit lenders. That is far less than the rates of payday lenders, which can charge 400 percent or more.

If everyone in the group repays on time, each member is entitled to a larger loan in the next cycle. Members are supposed to be below the federal poverty line when they join and use the money for entrepreneurial purposes. Grameen does not ask if they are legal residents.

What are the women doing with the loans?

In Jackson Heights, borrowers said they used the money to buy costume jewelry, Herbalife nutritional supplements or Mary Kay cosmetics for resale in home-based businesses or door to door, many supplementing income from another job like housecleaning. Some make cakes or empanadas; others tailor clothing or sell flowers. One woman buys designer clothes at closeouts and resells them from a tiny shop on the second floor of a commercial complex; another sends clothes home to the Dominican Republic, where her sister sells them on the street.

S. M. Nural Kabir fills out papers for borrowers, many of whom lack access to credit

S. M. Nural Kabir fills out papers for borrowers, many of whom lack access to credit

The question is:   Will selling Mary Kay bring a lot of families out of poverty?  Two women with storefront business were profiled in the story.

…Guadalupe Perez, 51, took a loan when business fell off during the recession. She and her husband were having trouble paying rent on the party decoration store they had started with their life savings. “It opened up a way for me to keep my business,” she said through an interpreter, standing near a display of ribbons and wine glasses that she had embellished with glittery designs. “I wanted to hear what the rules were for Grameen because I was afraid of going to a bank. It was a loan that I could pay little by little; I felt it was a good choice for me.”

Ms. Perez has used subsequent loans to expand the size of her store and now plans to invest in enough tablecloths to decorate two parties at the same time. But the loans have not increased her enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. Asked whether, had she the chance to do it over, she would go into business for herself, her answer was short and simple: no.

Ms. Perez said she and her husband worked every day and earned $500 to $600 a week, or about $29,000 a year — a “very low” income by federal standards for New York. They are not able to save.

Elizabeth de Jesus, 45, is a hairdresser who, with Grameen’s help, achieved her dream of opening her own salon in Corona, Queens. But she is unable to estimate her annual income. “I don’t know because I don’t keep it,” she said. “I spend it all on the payments, on the rent, on food. I spend it every week.”

The life of a small business owner is always difficult and I was surprised that there wasn’t more financial planning and management training provided by Grameen to those receiving loans.  There is, however,  one very bright light in the story:  establishing credit.

Grameen helps its clients in another way that many experts say is more important than increasing income — it establishes good credit scores. Many poverty alleviation groups have shifted their focus from saving to credit building, because people with poor or no credit must leave large deposits for basic needs like utilities, have trouble renting decent housing, pay much higher interest rates and have a harder time finding jobs.

Nayrobi Gonzalez de Quiroz, 26, recently received her first Grameen loan but decided not to follow through with her plan to buy handbags for resale. After using about $200 to pay off a debt, she said, she decided it was safer to leave the money in the bank and make the payments from her earnings as a manicurist.

“Here, you have to have good credit,” she said. “I have a young son and I have to think about his future.”

The results appear to be mixed.

Good data on the benefits of microcredit are scarce, and the few randomized studies have not demonstrated that it substantially improves prosperity in developing countries. In the United States, data collected by the Field program of the Aspen Institute show that microloans yield significant increases in income and create jobs. Joyce Klein, the program’s director, said the surveys had limitations but more rigorous studies that included randomized control groups would be prohibitively expensive.

Grameen says that its loan recipients have increased their incomes by an average of $2,500 during each six-month loan cycle, and that one in five hires an additional worker. But Katherine Rosenberg, a senior vice president at Grameen, acknowledged that pinning down income data is the group’s biggest challenge, because borrowers tend to think in terms of whether they have enough to cover their next bill, not how much they make over all. Ms. Rosenberg said many clients may not earn more but instead work less, dropping one of several low-wage jobs or taking advantage of the flexibility of self-employment to spend more time with their children.

Peer pressure produces a good repayment rate on microloans and I know they are not a magic bullet and way out of poverty, but it appears they have other benefits for those women who want to start businesses and/or build credit.   There is no easy way to break the cycle of poverty.

Photograph:  Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Healthcare confusion

Let’s start with Jen Sorensen

Jen Sorenson

A lot of people are confused about what the Affordable Care Act does and don’t seem to realize that their insurance will actually come from a combination of Medicaid (or Medicare (for those who qualify) and a private insurer or just from a private insurer.  This is  the kind of insurance many got (I understand there are fewer offered these days) when they retired and got Medicare Advantage from a private insurer through their former employer as I do.  My retiree’s Medicare Advantage is partly subsidized by the City of Boston but I pay a monthly premium just as I pay a monthly premium for Medicare.  The ACA changes none of this for me.  And it changes nothing about employees who get qualified plans through their employers.  But to hear some of the Republicans carry on you would think that some staffer from the Department of Health and Human Services – or maybe Kathleen Sebelius herself will be performing medical exams.

As Gail Collins explained in her New York Times column today

The Democrats are depressed. The Republicans enjoy pointing out that the Obamacare rollout has been a mess. But they obviously can’t pretend to be upset that people are finding it hard to sign up for a program their party wanted to kill, eviscerate and stomp into tiny pieces, which would then be fed to a tank of ravenous eels.

Well, actually, they can.

“I haven’t heard one of you apologize to the American public,” Representative David McKinley of West Virginia sternly told government contractors who had worked on the HealthCare.gov Web site. McKinley’s party recently shut down everything from the national parks to preschool programs, while costing the economy an estimated $24 billion. Nobody apologized. Perhaps they’ll write a note this weekend.

“I’m damned angry that I and 700,000 Texans I represent have been misled, misled and misled,” said Representative Pete Olson. The only thing that could conceivably make Olson angrier would be if the Obamacare site was working so well that Texans could get health insurance as easily as they can order a chrome scarf holder from Amazon.com.

I thought these guys would be happy that people couldn’t get insurance and that the whole enterprise was a flop.  But maybe it is just the technical failures with the website that they don’t like.  I’m very confused.  As Andy Borowitz posted ” I guess once the Obamacare website is fixed the Republicans will be totally on board.”

But I don’t think the news will be good in the long run for the Republicans who want to repeal the ACA even if access to the sign-up website gets fixed.  This post from Sarah Kliff on Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog is likely just the start.

More than 330,000 people have managed to get deep enough into new government health insurance Web sites to learn how much financial assistance they will receive purchasing coverage, the Internal Revenue Service said Saturday.

That figure is arguably the most robust measure released to date by the Obama administration of how many Americans are successfully applying for financial help in purchasing a private insurance plan.

Calculations of financial assistance is a step that follows filing an application and tells applicants how much of a tax credit–if any–they can use to purchase a private health plan. This figure does not include shoppers who were found to likely qualify for Medicaid earlier in the shopping process.

The IRS said it has also received and responded to more than 1.3 million requests from the marketplace for personal data used to apply for Affordable Care Act programs, such as household income and family size.

The IRS said it is currently receiving about 80,000 such data requests each day. It is one of about a half-dozen agencies that send information to a federal data hub, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

“Our IT systems are working well and providing both the historical tax data and the computation service accurately and quickly through the government’s data hub,” IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said. “The requests are being processed within seconds.”

This federal data hub determines eligibility for premium tax credits for the 36 states using the federal insurance marketplace and also for some, but not all, of the state-based exchanges. California, for example, opted to use its own technology to determine who qualifies for which programs.

The federal data hub was built by the contracting firm QSSI. The Obama administration announced Friday that QSSI would take on a new role as HealthCare.gov’s general contractor, overseeing efforts to fix the Web sites’ problems.

HealthCare.gov pings this federal data hub to verify a consumer’s identity and also when shoppers indicate in their applications that they would like to apply for financial assistance with coverage. Health and Human Services has said that, as of Thursday, 700,000 applications have been filed through the federal and state insurance exchanges.

People were slow to sign up when Massachusetts rolled out Romeycare and now there is close to universal coverage.  ACA sign-up, despite the problems is going even faster.

mass_enrollment_blue

The World Series: beards and music

Superstitious, I guess.  I didn’t want to write about the Red Sox in the World Series for fear of jinxing them.  Not that I have any such power, but with the baseball gods one never knows.  But now each team has had one horrid game – the Cardinals were worse than the Sox – and the Series is tied.  The Sox need to win at least one game in St. Louis to get back home team advantage.  This is beginning to feel like the games with Detroit that got them where they are.  That turned out OK, so we can still have hope.  All we need is for Jake Peavy to live up to his hype and for some combination of Clay Buchholtz/Felix Dubrount to pitch well and there is a chance for two wins.  And then we get Lester again.  So I’m feeling OK about the situation.  I feel badly for John Lackey who has had a great pitching year, but can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to run support and wins.

The player who did his job last night was Koji Uehara the accidental closer.  Once more.  3 outs on 10 pitches.  The beardless one.  I think we all assumed he didn’t have a beard because he couldn’t grow one.  We were wrong.  A few days ago, this story was in the New York Times.

Long, bushy beards have become the unifying trademark of the 2013 Boston Red Sox, but the most valuable player of their American League Championship Series victory stands out for more than his pitching.

The series M.V.P., the cleanshaven closer Koji Uehara, was given a pass on the team’s unofficial pro-beard policy because most of his teammates thought he was incapable of growing one.

But that is hardly the case. Well before the Red Sox’ shaggy faces entered the national consciousness, Uehara was a longstanding member of the antirazor brigade.

Until January, when he shaved it off on Japanese national television, Uehara had one of the most famous beards in Japan: light, Fu Manchu-style scruff with a wraparound beard connecting to his sideburns. It was considered ugly and brutish by many of his friends and countrymen, but he wore it defiantly for several years after coming to the United States in 2009.

Koji in Baltimore

People must have known.  I watched him pitch when he was with Baltimore, but I guess the beard never registered.  He also had a beard with the Rangers.

“I just didn’t know where I was going with that beard,” Uehara, 38, said through an interpreter Saturday afternoon before the final game of the A.L.C.S. “So I thought it was best to shave it off. It was a good time to do it, and I think many people were happy. They said I looked younger.”

Without facial hair, Uehara posted a career-low 1.09 E.R.A. in the regular season and had 21 saves after taking over as Boston’s full-time closer June 26. In the playoffs, he has been just as good, allowing one run in nine innings over eight games. He has five saves this postseason: two in a division series against the Tampa Bay Rays and three in the A.L.C.S. against the Detroit Tigers, including the save that clinched the pennant Saturday night.

But has shaving made him a better postseason pitcher?

“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “I am not sure about that.”

Whatever.  If being beardless got him MVP for the ALCS, then it is good for him and for us.

In one way, it makes sense that Uehara is now clean shaven in the midst of players who look like desert-island castaways. He originally grew his beard to stand apart from his teammates in Japan and from Japanese players in the majors, many of whom did not have facial hair.

Now that he is with a rowdy band of bearded Red Sox, he is distinguished in a different way.

“If I had a beard now,” he said, “I would not stand out.”

Meanwhile the symphony orchestras in Boston and St. Louis are getting in the act.  Even if you don’t root for either team this clip is wonderful.  I have to concede that the brass from St. Louis are better trash talkers, but the BSO has Seiji Ozawa.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_k8oICRBH4&feature=youtu.be

By the way, Boston in six.  With ZZ Top on our side, how can we lose?

Photograph: Mark Duncan/Associated Press

The more things change…

the more they stay the same.  I’m reading “The Mansion of Happiness” by Jill Lepore, a collection of essays arranged so they comprise a history of life and death which is the book’s subtitle.  Lepore is an historian and essayist.  (We heard her lecture on her newest book about Jane Franklin and my husband came home and ordered all of his books.)  One chapter is titled Mr. Marriage.  In it, Lepore recounts a number of things including the history of marriage counseling and the history of eugenics.  I bet you didn’t know they were connected; I certainly didn’t.

Cover of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"

Cover of Can This Marriage Be Saved?

When I was a kid, my mother used to subscribe to the Ladies Home Journal and I would read “Can this Marriage Be Saved?”.  I wonder how many of my generation got some of their ideas about marriage from reading this feature.  In any case, Paul Popenoe who wrote the column was the father of marriage counseling.  He was also a leader in the movement to sterilize the “unfit” to prevent them from having children.  Lepore writes, ” He considered marriage counseling the flip side of compulsory vasectomy and tubal ligation:  sterilize the unfit; urge the fit to marry.”  The early eugenicists  were influenced by Darwin and the theory of evolution.  If one could breed better plants and livestock, why not better people?

Lepore writes

…In the United States, what come to be called social Darwinism provided conservatives with an arsenal of arguments in favor of laissez-faire economic policies, against social welfare programs, and in support of Jim Crow. “The Negro”, it was argued, was “nearer to the anthropoid or pre-human ancestry of men” than any other race, a living missing link; only slavery had prevented the extinction of the black American; if not for the peculiar institution, natural selection would have led to the death of the entire race.

I guess they ignored the fact that many, likely most, African-Americans had a white ancestor in the family tree.  No matter, Paul Popenoe thought about 10% of the population should be sterilized.  This would have been determined in part by the IQ test that was relatively new at the time and, of course, by race. In 1918, Popenoe wrote a book with Rosewell Hill Johnson titled “Applied Eugenics”.

Popenoe and Johnson deemed miscegenation “biologically wrong” because “the Negro lacks in his germ-plasm excellence of some qualities which the white races possess. For poverty, Popenoe and Johnson blamed the poor, citing a study reporting that 55 percent of  retarded children belonged to the laboring class.  The solution to want was to sterilize the needy.  Following Terman [Lewis M.], Popenoe and Johnson opposed old-age pensions, minimum-wage legislation, and child-labor laws: by helping the biologically and mentally unfit, these programs perpetuated a poor gene pool, just as slavery had protected blacks from extinction.

Echoes of the eugenicists can be heard in the current efforts of certain members of the Republican party who only wanted to fund programs they liked during the recent government shutdown.  And the intense dislike, maybe hatred isn’t too strong a word, of President Obama perhaps isn’t just because he is black, but because he is the product of a an African father and white mother.  You hear it in the effort to defund the Affordable Heath Care Act.  As my husband pointed out when I was reading Lepore and ranting, Ron Paul stated during a Republican Presidential debate the if someone couldn’t afford care or didn’t have a policy that would be their own responsibility.  (Going back to the transcript, Paul didn’t actually say that person should be left to die, but that nonprofits like churches would help after the hospital provided medical care, that having health insurance should be a private decision, and provision of health care should not be a governmental responsibility.  Actually, given the current state of the economy and the finances of nonprofits these day, it is the equivalent of letting someone die.)

I will listen to the arguments in the upcoming budget fight with great interest and I bet I will hear more echoes of Paul Popenoe.  The more things change…

A father remembers his daughter in music

Right after the shootings in Newtown, CT, I was listening to “Eric in the Evening”, the local jazz program on Boston’s WGBH public radio.  Eric Jackson, the host, said he was going to play some Jimmy Greene.  He explained that he had heard that Greene’s daughter, Ana, was among the victims.  So this story in the New York Times caught my eye.

Before last Dec. 14, Jimmy Greene had been a jazzman for most of his 38 years, well known among serious jazz fans. He had dozens of albums to his name. He played with such luminaries as Freddie Hubbard. He was a scholar, too, teaching jazz at a public university.

On Dec. 14, Mr. Greene’s 6-year-old daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, who shared his passion for music and loved to listen to her father play, was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That was the day a gunman killed Ana along with 19 other children and 6 educators.

Weeks after the massacre, he slowly began accepting invitations to play publicly, as long as the performances were close to his Connecticut home. He returned to Western Connecticut State University, where he teaches jazz.

Slowly, Mr. Greene said, the spirit of Ana’s “beautiful life” began comforting and inspiring him to begin writing music again. Then there were the many musician friends, like Harry Connick Jr., who helped console him. One result is a new album called, appropriately, “Beautiful Life,” a work inspired by and dedicated to Ana’s life.

“I want it to give a sense of how she lived,” said Mr. Greene, who recently performed some of the music from the album at a jazz club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The nearly completed album, whose proceeds will go partly toward charities set up in Ana’s name, exemplifies a decision by the family not to let the pain of Ana’s death keep them from discussing her life, he said.

“It’s a way for us to keep Ana alive, and keep her on the tip of our tongues,” he said. “I don’t want to avoid talking about it because one problem we have in our culture is that if something is difficult, we don’t talk about it.”

I found this link to a YouTube tune called “Ana Grace” written before Ana was killed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVkVYJUsuDM

Ana loved to dance joyfully around the house and she loved Disney movies, including “The Princess and the Frog,” whose dark-skinned Princess Tiana appealed to her.

Mr. Greene asked the singer Anika Noni Rose, a childhood friend who was the voice of the princess in the film, to recite spoken word on his song “Little Voices” on the new album, which also features Kurt Elling, a Grammy Award winner, performing on “Ana’s Way,” and Javier Colon on “When I Come Home.”

The recording also includes a duet by Mr. Greene and the guitarist Pat Metheny of the hymn “Come Thou Almighty King,” which Ana liked to sing while her older brother accompanied her on the piano.

Ana Márquez-Greene

Ana Márquez-Greene

Greene performed songs from the album recently at the New York jazz club Smoke.

On the morning of the shooting, he was teaching and got a call from his wife — both are Hartford natives who have been together since high school — and he raced home preparing himself for anything. Many friends and relatives rushed to his house, including Mr. Connick, whose band Mr. Green was a member of for a long time. Mr. Connick later wrote a song called “Love Wins” for Ana and recorded it with Mr. Greene.

The horror that unfolded, Mr. Greene said, “has changed me as a human and you reflect that humanity in your art.”

“It shapes you as an artist when you lose something so precious,” he said on a recent Friday night between sets at Smoke jazz club in Manhattan. His band featured an all-star lineup of Renee Rosnes on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass and Jeff (Tain) Watts on drums.

Between songs, Mr. Greene thanked the audience for their prayers and condolences, which help him keep “strengthening day by day,” he said. The audience applauded after he talked about what happened last December and urged the audience to “show your love for each other often.”

“With that in mind,” he said, the next song would be Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” whose lyrics speak about those three words being hummed by the April breeze, echoed by the hills and seconded by the dawn.

This sounds like a wonderful tribute to a beautiful child.

Who is Jeh Johnson?

Jeh Johnson is likely to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security.  And no, I don’t know much about him either except that he gave the Obama Administration legal advice that basically approved drone strikes and he made a speech at Oxford University in 2012 saying that the war on terror had to end at some point because no country could be perpetually at war.  Johnson has also criticized the lack of transparency about drone strikes.  The New York Times reports

…In a speech at Oxford, he looked ahead to a day when Al Qaeda was so diminished that the United States could relax its posture and end the military’s legal authority to kill and detain terrorism suspects.

“I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point — a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States,” Mr. Johnson said at the time.

But he emphasized that he was not declaring the struggle to be over, stressing the danger of Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and in North and West Africa. He also suggested that even after the armed struggle ended, there could be a need to hold some detainees legally without trial for a period of time, as happened after World War II.

Earlier in 2012, Mr. Johnson delivered a speech at Yale Law School defending the proposition that American citizens who join Al Qaeda may be lawfully targeted for killing under certain circumstances.

But he has also criticized the Obama administration for being too secretive about matters like targeted killings using drone strikes.

“The problem is that the American public is suspicious of executive power shrouded in secrecy,” Mr. Johnson said in a speech at Fordham University this year. “In the absence of an official picture of what our government is doing, and by what authority, many in the public fill the void by imagining the worst.”

During his tenure at the Defense Department, Jeh C. Johnson helped shape the Obama administration's national security policies.

During his tenure at the Defense Department, Jeh C. Johnson helped shape the Obama administration’s national security policies.

But Emily Heil has the best information on Johnson.  She reported this morning in the Washington Post “Eight Fact you didn’t know about Jeh Johnson.

– His name is pronounced “Jay.”

– He and his wife, Susan DiMarco, met as children, but started dating only after Johnson visited her dental practice. He “endured three years of dental work before she agreed to a date with him,” according to their wedding announcement in the New York Times.

– His uncle, 2d Lt Robert B. Johnson, was one of the famed Tuskegee airmen.

-During his freshman year at Morehouse College, his grade-point average was a “dismal 1.8.”

– His grandfather, Charles S. Johnson, a prominent sociologist and participant in the Harlem Renaissance, was the president of Fisk University.

– He was once a law partner of the late Ted Sorensen,  John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter. Johnson called him “one of my personal heroes.”

– He once said in an interview that in his next life, he’d like to be an “NYC subway motorman, preferably the #7 Flushing line.”

And now you can amaze your friends with what you know about Mr. Johnson.

Photograph:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

Winners and losers

Not talking about baseball today but about  the 16 day drive toward the fiscal cliff.   One of my favorite commentators, Ana Marie Cox, has compiled a list that you can see in its entirety here in the Guardian.  You can agree with her or not about her choices, but she gives us some things to think about.  Here are my favorites among Cox’s choices.

Winners

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz. The punchline for a thousand Twitter humorists and the lead for most of the many stories about GOP dysfunction, Cruz is laughing in that whiny way of his all the way to the campaign war chest. He raised over $1m in the third quarter that ended 1 October, before the shutdown, half of it through the new “Ted Cruz Victory Committee” formed last year specifically to benefit from Cruz’s “defund Obamacare” petition. Cruz’s floor speech before the Senate vote seemed to imply that the fundraising was continuing at that pace; he referred to the “millions of millions [sic] of American people rising up across this country, over two million people signing a national petition to defund Obamacare”. The online petition is also an email harvesting gambit from the Senate Conservative Fund, the PAC that helped bring Cruz to Washington in the first place.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid. The former pugilist only won a technical knockout, but that’s probably the way the Senate majority leader likes it. That Reid’s compact and focused rage held Democrats together and in chorus was obvious from the outside. Senator Dick Durbin’s insinuation that we will “never know, you will never know, how much he put in to accomplish this” only ups the suspicions about the incredible power Reid wields.

Speaker Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi. Drudge called it, naming the Democratic congresswoman from California the once and future Speaker of the House. In other words, Matt Drudge thinks the Democrats have a serious chance of winning back the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterms. Or, you know, he could have been trolling us.

John McCain

John McCain. The septuagenarian’s bipolar relationship with the media started on the upswing with his early ridicule of Cruz (though now Cruz wears “wackobird” as a badge of honor). With the threat of a shutdown, the love affair really flared back up. McCain gave both earnest indictments of the strategy and exasperated quips. He dusted off the chestnut that congressional popularity is down to “paid staffers and blood relatives” and declared sarcastically of the GOP, “We’re livin’ the dream.”

And now the

Losers

majority rule

Majority rule. While the fundamental principle of democracy seems to have survived the 16-day crisis, the fact of the shutdown and the tiny minority of congressmen that created it, the Tea Party Republicans of the House have nonetheless managed to poke serious holes in the constitution they hold so dear. Presumably, the second amendment was left unscathed.

economic principles

Economic principles. People who didn’t even know what the debt limit was last month now think it’s some kind of conspiracy. Even as the US dodged a bullet this time – though suffering the collateral damage of further credit-rating downgrades – one can’t help feeling that we haven’t heard the last of the GOP’s new caucus of “debt default skeptics”.

apples and oranges

“False equivalence” reporting. James Fallows at the Atlantic documented some of the worst offenders and as “it’s everybody’s fault” became a Republican talking point, many media critics joined him in denouncing the faux-even-handedness as actually putting a finger on the scale. The “serious people” trope (as in, “serious people are above partisan bickering”) popularized by op-ed writers such as Michael Kinsley and Ron Fournier became especially ridiculous as the crisis wore on. Kinsley’s column beseeching Obama to “give in” to Republicans “for the sake of the country” (“media will no doubt call Obama weak”!) should be taught as a cautionary example against this desire to be “taken seriously”.

gop logo

The GOP. I mean, really.

This effort has only cost us an estimated 24 Billion dollars (and counting) and there is no saying that it won’t happen again in January.  It drives me nuts that the President is blamed by many while Ted Cruz used me – and everyone else who pays taxes and needs government services – to raise money for his 2016 Presidential bid.  But the silver lining is that if the Democrats get to work, it looks like they can hold on to the Senate and take back the House.  And then John Boehner will really have something to cry about.

Moving toward the cliff

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, a federal employee, who is not working because of the shutdown.  She can’t check her work email or phone messages and fears the backlog of problems that awaits her when she does get back to work.  She said the only way she was fortunate was that she was not one of the essential employees who had to work anyway.  We speculated on how people will get to work if October moves to November and people’s monthly transit passes run out.  Will they be expected to shell out money they don’t have to get to a job they aren’t paid for?  All her friends can do is to buy her lunch.  Fast forward 24 hours and we still have no deal.  Even if the Senate comes up with a solution it is not clear if 1) the House will even vote on it and 2) if they do, if this is just another short term postponement.  All my friend hopes is that the next deadline is past the holidays and that there is back pay.

I was trying to find some humor in the whole situation, but find that I actually feel very sorry for John Boehner.  John Cassidy posted this for the New Yorker.

Give the Republicans on Capitol Hill one thing: they don’t leave a job half done. Evidently disturbed by polls showing Congress with a single-digit approval rating, they appear intent on driving it to zero.

What other explanation can there be for Tuesday’s farcical maneuvers, which saw the House Republican leadership try and fail to seize the initiative in the debt-ceiling standoff from the Senate, in the process humiliating Speaker Boehner yet again. By the end of the day, facing renewed opposition from some of his own members, Boehner had dropped his efforts to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling until February, but one with more riders than an agreement that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, have been working on.

From the point of view of the country, that’s good news. Overnight, officials representing McConnell and Reid were rushing to complete their negotiations, which were called off on Tuesday after Boehner’s unwise intervention. As it stands now, the Senate agreement would reportedly fund the government until January 15th and raise the debt ceiling until February 7th, with the only concession from the Democrats being an agreement to toughen up the policing of eligibility requirements for obtaining federal subsidies to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner is in a box.  He can’t control his own party caucus and can’t turn to Democratic votes because then he would lose his Speakership.  If the country goes into default, he will likely lose it anyway.

Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, the Speaker will face the unenviable choice of allowing it to pass with Democratic support or exercising the nuclear option of forcing a default. Having already ruled out this second option in public comments, there were reports on Tuesday night that Boehner was prepared to bring the Senate bill to the floor, which would probably insure its passage. That wouldn’t end the budget crisis—it’s never-ending—but it would put off the next showdown until the new year, whilst ensuring that the Republican ultras had gained almost precisely nothing for their willingness to shut down the government and raise the prospect of a debt default. (In another development on Tuesday, Fitch, one of the big ratings agencies, placed U.S. government debt on watch for a potential downgrade, saying that “the prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011), risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.”)

From the point of view of the Republican Party, things have been going from bad to worse. With the party divided, its poll ratings tanking fast, and its leadership unwilling to risk an actual default, it has been clear for some time that it was in a losing position. The discussions in the past few days have been about the terms of surrender, with the White House and Reid pressing for something close to an unconditional capitulation.

So here are a few cartoons to weep at as we proceed at a Senate’s slow pace, to the edge.

From Tony Auth

From Tony Auth

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

Signe Wilkerson

Signe Wilkerson

And Wilkerson, again.

Wilkinson2

Can we hope that there are still some adults who won’t drive us over the edge?

Can we send David Ortiz to the budget negotiations?

It has been a discouraging last few days with the only real bright spot being Friday (and then we went back Saturday) at Symphony Hall with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We wanted to hear Thomas Ades, Polaris a second time and Friday night the BSO did not do Franck’s Symphony in D Minor which my husband loves.   But we came home Saturday night to no budget/debt ceiling deal and the Red Sox striking out, also.  I often tune in to some of the Sunday news shows, but couldn’t stand to hear any more Republican Congresspersons who have no clue about what the debt ceiling is much less understand any thing about the economy.  One of my friends posted this on Facebook the other day

Despite their lofty status in managing American affairs, it appears to me that few Congresspersons have any meaningful understanding of how their chronic politicization of economic policies substantially degrades, perhaps permanently, the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency. Evidence of the dollar’s decline to a commodity status is increasingly apparent. In time, every American will feel a crippling pain that no amount of political negotiating can cure.

Given this state of things, I retreated to a game of Civilization V where I could control, more or less, my own universe until after Sunday dinner when the Red Sox could take over.  But, after watching strike out after strike out with Clay Buchholz pitching sooo very slowly while getting slammed around in the sixth, I retreated.  I woke up just before 6 am this morning having just had a dream that I woke up and the Sox had come back.  I turned on the radio, I found that is was true!

Peter Abraham explains

In what has been a season full of memorable late-inning victories at Fenway Park, the Red Sox saved the best for when they needed it the most in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Sunday night.

Trailing by four runs against the Detroit Tigers, the Sox tied the game on a grand slam by David Ortiz in the eighth inning then won it, 6-5, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to drive in Jonny Gomes in the ninth.

The remarkable victory had the players chasing Saltalamacchia across the outfield and the sellout crowd of 38,029 chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” as they left Fenway.

“When you back us into a wall, you either do two things: cave or fight. We’re gonna fight,” Dustin Pedroia said.

That wall was hard to get over. The Sox had scored one run through the 16 innings in the series, going 3 for 51 at the plate with 30 strikeouts. Detroit starter Max Scherzer allowed one run on two hits over seven innings and struck out 13.

And then.

Will Middlebrooks doubled to left field off Jose Veras to start the rally. Then Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk off Drew Smyly.

Al Albuquerque was next out of the Detroit bullpen. He struck out Shane Victorino for the second out, but Pedroia singled to right. Third base coach Brian Butterfield held Middlebrooks, wanting to make sure Ortiz got his chance.

Ortiz swung at the first pitch, a changeup away, and was strong enough to pull it into the Red Sox bullpen in right field for his first career postseason grand slam and the fourth in Red Sox history.

Right fielder Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall trying to make a catch as Boston police officer Steve Horgan raised his arms in joy. Bullpen catcher Mani Martinez, who was warming up Koji Uehara, casually turned and caught the ball.

It was bedlam at Fenway and the crowd kept cheering until Ortiz emerged from the dugout and tipped his helmet to them.

“My idea wasn’t to go out and hit a grand slam,” Ortiz said. “If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam, I’d be lying to you now.”

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

Gotta love David.

There was still a game to win. After Uehara retired the Tigers in order, Gomes was again the catalyst.

He reached on an infield single off Rick Porcello and took second on a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias, the former Sox player known for his defensive skills.

“No is not an option for this team,” Gomes said. “Once I got on second, I was going to do anything I could to score.”

Gomes advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Saltalamacchia singled to left field.

“I felt good,” Saltalamacchia said. “Trying to hit the ball up the middle and take your chance.”

It was the 12th walkoff win of the season for the Red Sox.

So now we have something to watch on the highlight reels other than strike out after strike out.  There is joy in Mudville after all.  The Red Sox head for Detroit to face Justin Verlander, still another one of the Tigers’ great pitchers.  Let’s end this with something to ponder.  My husband heard Verlander ask this question:  If a pitch grazes a Red Sox’s beard, did he get hit by the pitch?

Now if only someone would hit a grand slam on the budget and knock out Ted Cruz and his friends.

Photograph:  Jim Davis/Globe Staff