It was the week when a bellicose speech by the president was actually a relief from the natural disasters around us.
- Not a solution. The remnants of Hurricane Jose battered the Cape and Islands while Maria wiped out Puerto Rico. President Trump reassured nervous Americans, panicked by an unprecedented onslaught of destructive storms, by holding firm to his vow to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement.
- Pay now or pay later. An earthquake in Mexico City killed at least 230, but what’s striking is that there wasn’t more damage and death. Videos from the scene showed some buildings swaying but still standing, even as others next to them collapsed. There’s a lesson here — one also seen in Florida, where houses built to newer standards were able to withstand Hurricane Irma: Sometimes regulation is a good thing. Tougher building codes increase upfront costs, to be sure, but they also save lives and property down the road.
- Twit before the world. In his maiden appearance before the United Nations, Trump gave a speech that sounded a lot like an extended series of tweets. You’ve got to hand it to the president: He definitely has more quotable lines than his predecessors: “We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” “Rocketman,” the Iran “deal is an embarrassment,” and “major portions of the world … are going to hell.” Great stuff. Also, he pointed out that the U.S. Constitution is 230 years old and then called it “timeless.”
- Like the last scene in “Carrie.” Republicans abandoned bipartisan efforts to “fix” Obamacare and at the same time launched a new effort to get rid of it altogether. Unlike last time, this new version may get through the Senate, although its fate in the House is less certain. How did repeal, once thought dead, get resurrected? I blame Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and a host of upstart Democrats who have decided to reject Obamacare and push for single-payer health care. With few defenders from either the right or left, Obamacare’s days seem numbered
- Credulous. Facebook agreed to release political ads placed by Russians seeking to influence the presidential election, ads that were believed by, whom, exactly? The same folks who think they are soon to rake in millions from a Nigerian ex-dictator?
- A day like any other. Boston was abuzz with excitement for next Tuesday’s preliminary city election. Ha! Just kidding. In fact, it’s not clear many even know there’s an election. Four folks are on the ballot for mayor, but incumbent Marty Walsh is so far in the lead — polling 31 points ahead of his closest challenger — he’s refused to participate in even one debate. Incredibly, there aren’t enough candidates to justify an election either for city councilor at large or in five of the city’s nine district council seats. The conclusion Walsh (along with other ensconced pols) would hope we all draw from this? Life is good. So good, in fact, no one wants anything to change.
- Why people mock lawyers. Remember the much-derided Twinkie defense? That was an attempt by lawyers in 1979 to exonerate a client by claiming his consumption of junk foods showed he was depressed. This week we saw its revival, with defense lawyers arguing alleged ISIS terrorist David Wright should get off because he was overweight and lonely. Seems ridiculous. But what most don’t remember is that the Twinkie defense worked; killer Dan White was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder. Wright — a sad sack if there ever was one — may catch a break as well. Even if the weight of the evidence goes the other way.
- Concussed. A new study found that young kids who played football showed signs of significant cognitive impairment later in life. Meanwhile, Boston University has just released a report that Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These are not good days for football. The evidence against the sport keeps mounting and one wonders when it eventually collapses, brought down by parents simply refusing to allow their children to play the game. Who’s happy about this? Major League Baseball, for one.
- Category killer. Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy and some are bemoaning this as another sign of an Internet-led death of retail. Hardly. The company was brought down by billions of dollars of debt layered on it by prior investors. And remember that Toys “R” Us was itself a killer of retail, wiping out the mom-and-pop toy stores that once dotted Main Streets. A prediction: Internet sales will continue to rise but the losers will be the big-box stores. Mom and pops, offering services and immediacy unavailable from anywhere else, will rise again. Karma.
- Mom and dad win one. And finally, researchers in the journal Child Development reported that today’s teens are putting off adult activities. They drive less, don’t drink as much, and delay dating and sex. They also hang out with their parents a lot more and go out alone far less frequently. In other words, they’re doing exactly what we’ve been telling them to do. Of course, they’re also less likely to work for pay and live on their own. There are downsides to everything.
This column was first published by Cognoscenti on September 22, 2017.