I don't know if they'll ever finally get around to thawing Walt Disney, wherever he and his probably apocryphal ice box may be, and successfully re-animate the legendary animator. But if they do, and if they ask him to design an American city, I'm pretty sure what he'd come up would be Chicago, circa 2014. The 100-block downtown core of America's third-largest city rivals the Magic Kingdom for cleanliness and gee-whiz factor, with its muscular, sharply angled glass condo and hotel towers -- one after another after another -- so immaculate looking you could probably eat a fried pirogi off them. The Chicago River that once caught fire from pollution is now an unnatural Caribbean green.
The towers are so tall that you can't see the prairie for the steel trees, that you have to pull up the Drudge Report on your device to remember that nearby there's some violent place Drudge calls "Chicagoland" where 20, 30, 40 poor folks get shot every weekend. The bubble was hard to escape...literally, after a troubled man decided Thursday night to burn down a big chunk of Chicago's air-traffic control center. Suddenly the world's top Internet journalists (joined, inexplicably, by me) -- after swapping 12 months worth of acquired knowledge in three crammed days -- were unable to connect, to get to the places where we wanted to go next.
OK, so I'm writing this from the frenzied waiting area at O'Hare, so maybe an 8-hour flight delay has given me waaaay too much time to craft overwrought metaphors about the 15th annual confab of the Online News Association, where 1,899 really, really smart people who've taken Internet journalism from 0 to about 35 mph over the last decade-and-a-half gather once a year to give it a little more gas. But I come away feeling like online journalism -- which, let's be honest, IS journalism for a growing majority of people -- is trapped in something of a bubble right now. The big fixes have all been done. Most news people are thinking digitally now (and I won't name the folks I know who aren't, or won't) but the pedal won't go down any further. So much energy and so many person-hours was spent chasing things that mattered so much in 2009 -- like having a cool homepage, for example -- but are fast becoming meaningless five quick years later.
Move over Tank Man -- there's a new kid in town. If you pay attention to one story this week, pay attention to Hong Kong. Because democracy matters.
Will you still love Bruce Springsteen, will you still need him, when he's 65? Because he is, as of today -- happy birthday to the Boss of all bosses. Indeed, that sound you probably heard today was a giant pit forming in the stomach of several million similarly aging non-cop Baby Boomers at this news, but to paraphrase Maurice Chevalier, turning 65 isn't so bad when you consider the alternative. At least he'll be collecting Social Security if the music thing doesn't work out for him.
For the rest of this week, you'll have to consider the alternative to the far-left agitprop that's usually occupying this space. I'm off to Chicago, where I'm making one last attempt to figure out this online journalism thing. I'll be back to bug you again on Sunday. Until then, use the space below to comment on the Great Issues of our time. Will President Obama come up with another terrorist group that we've never heard of during the next five days to drop bombs on? (Probably). Does Pennsylvania need to extend its hate-crimes law to include the LGBT community? (Based on what we've seen these last two weeks, you'd have to say yes.) Will you miss the Phillies?...did you even know they were still playing? (Yes, sort of, I guess.)
Have a great week.
My former Daily News colleague Marisol Bello, now with USA Today, bravely tells the powerful story of what happened when her biological father beat her with a switch, when she was just 3. I could not agree with the headline more. There is no place in modern society for using violence as a tool for disciplining children...period. And I believe our failure to live up to that is a reason -- not the only reason, but a reason -- whu we continue to live in such a violent world.
I've been reading -- in super slow-motion, a few subway stops every night -- Rick Perlstein's long and majestic The Invisible Bridge, explaining how we went so quickly from the fall of Nixon to the rise of Reagan in the mid-1970s. Perlstein is a master at showing how seemingly isolated events reveal a broader social consciousness -- for example, how the unrelenting double-whammy of Vietnam and Watergate caused Americans to turn to nostalgia (American Graffiti, "Grease," even the ragtime-y Shakey's Pizza) and the supernatural (Uri Geller, UFO fascination) to find any kind of liberation from the fierce awfulness of then.
Forty years later, and where are we? Right back where we started from. The center is not holding. Again.
Yesterday I mentioned the whiz-bang job that David Sirota has been doing -- first for Pando and more recently for International Business Times -- reporting on the shockingly loose ethics when it comes to handling pension monies under the Christie administration. Hours later, he published his latest and it's a doozy:
In the context of a New Jersey pension system stocked with $81 billion in assets, here was a transaction that seemed unremarkable. It was 2011, the year after Gov. Chris Christie had installed his longtime friend Robert Grady to oversee the state pension fund’s investments. A former executive from the heights of finance and a national Republican Party power broker, Grady was pursuing a new strategy, shifting money into hedge funds and private equity holdings in the name of diversification and higher returns. He was now pushing to entrust up to $1.8 billion of New Jersey pension money to the Blackstone Group, one of the largest players in private equity.
But one special feature of that Blackstone bet underscores the interlocking relationships at play as states increasingly rely on the counsel and management of Wall Street institutions to invest their pension dollars: One of the private equity funds New Jersey was investing in – a pool of money called Blackstone Capital Partners VI – claimed among its investors a Wyoming-based company named Cheyenne Capital. That company's list of partners included one Robert Grady.
That giant, inflatable Chris-Christie-for-president trial balloon is up in the skies again. It didn't take much -- just a news report from an NBC affiliate stating that prosecutors involved in the myriad, criss-crossing probes of Christie's affairs of state are now convinced that he didn't order or have advance knowledge of the 2013 lane-closing-as-political-revenge plot on the George Washington Bridge.
For Christie and his boosters -- by which I mainly mean the type of Beltway "journalists" and pundits you might find on "Morning Joe" at roughly 6:05 a.m. -- the burst of energy from that announcement practically carried the New Jersey governor to Iowa on the winds. Christie '16 is back with a vengeance. The governor wants the probes of his conduct wrapped up, saying last week: “These are people who are addicted to MSNBC and the front page of your papers.”
There's a few things you might want to ponder, though, before you take a ride in Christie's beautiful balloon. I'll list them in what I think are ascending order of importance: