Author Archives: Emily Halgrimson

Thoughts going into the New Year

By Lloyd Graff

It’s my birthday today as I write this, and I’m looking forward to a New Year.

If you read the papers (I still read the sports page) you’d think the economy was sinking into a worldwide sewer, but if you look at the stats and feel the vibe around you in America you would have a totally different feeling.

My gut feeling is that bankers and financial speculators (right at the bottom of my economic intelligence scale) are joining the herd in yelling that the sky is falling.  Part of this lemmingness derives from the intelligentsia’s abhorrence of Donald Trump, so they are praying (probably the wrong word) for economic disaster to bury him.  They can’t stand the success of the American economy during his first two years in office and have convinced themselves that it cannot, and must not, continue.  Convince the dummies in the hinterlands that they are, or soon will be, underwater, and they will start to believe it and hide their pennies under a rock.  And soon we will be in the recession they are predicting.

The Federal Reserve continues to live in its insular parallel universe raising interest rates every few months because their playbook, and God knows who wrote it, says that’s what you should do when people are happy and actually making enough dough to save a buck.  They are so bright and enlightened that they feel it is their ordained right to mess up a good thing, because otherwise we might have 3% inflation in 2020 even though they can’t get the 10-year treasury yield to stay over 3%.  The interest rate barometer of belief in American inflation over the next 10 years is stating emphatically that the Fed is wrong about inflation, and oil prices have dropped $20 a barrel in three months, but the brilliant old men at the Fed are convinced it will take a Brink’s truck of bills to buy a head of broccoli in a couple of years if they don’t starve the economy now.  It’s the usual “good is bad” rubric of the supposed smart people.

2019, Chinese Zodiac Year of the Pig

In the “real world” of machine tools and precision parts where I spend much of my time a lot of interesting things are happening.

For the first time in about 25 years the Chinese are on their back foot.  The mass exodus of manufacturing to China has reversed.  One major multinational firm, which I cannot mention by name, is moving a lot of its production of machined parts out of China.  It will not all come back to the U.S., but a significant chunk will.  Being dependent on China is becoming too dangerous for precious supply lines.  The price differentials are no longer large enough to justify the risks.

Meanwhile, companies from all over the globe are looking to relocate here.  Graff-Pinkert has been asked by numerous foreign manufacturers to find them an opportunity to buy in America.  From their vantage point the U.S. is safe and still relatively unregulated compared to Europe or South America.  Also its taxes are lower.

Politically, America is a bit messy now with the Trump hating reaching full pitch.  But look at the European Experiment.  The European Union looks extremely fragile from here.  England could have a Labour government headed by an ardent Socialist if Brexit is a failure.  Italy’s government is chaotic, though that is hardly anything new.  France has riots because poor people are waking up to the fact that the French state has not delivered the goodies they believe they deserve.  Meanwhile, the Germans sneer at their stupid neighbors but are almost totally dependent on their buddy Vladimir Putin for natural gas after shutting down those awful nonpolluting nuclear power plants.

Meanwhile the European intelligentsia have convinced themselves that they are the smart ones to save the planet with electric cars.  I think they will be surprised when people still want to buy the reliability of gasoline for a while.

Thank goodness the Europeans are united on climate change.  Unfortunately it means nothing except allowing them to feel good blaming the Americans while the Chinese and Indians are the real offenders in the carbon war.

Question: Do you think 2019 will be good for you economically?

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Barber School

By Lloyd Graff

Sometimes you can learn a lot from getting a haircut.

I’ve been going to the same barbershop for 20 years.  My needs are simple.  Same hair style since I was 12.  It’s a 15-minute trim.

My old barber, Ed, died several years ago, and his employee Erin bought the shop.  She inherited my head, I guess, and as a creature of habit I just continued the monthly routine.  I rarely make appointments with her ahead of time, preferring to call her when I know I have a free half hour.  She usually can fit me in on the day I call, but lately I’ve been having trouble fitting into her schedule.  She runs a one-person shop with an occasional helper coming in.  She does not work Sunday and Monday and is on a 9-5 schedule with Saturday ending at 2:30.

A couple of months ago I needed a haircut and had procrastinated until the last minute.  I was going to a wedding, and my hair was getting a bit sloppy.  I called Erin for an appointment for Friday afternoon or Saturday, and she told me she had nothing available.  I figured she could stay a little later or sandwich me in, and I requested that.  She would not fit me in, so I had to look for options.

An expanding Midwest supermarket chain had recently moved into the neighborhood named Meijer.  I had noticed on one of my infrequent visits to the store that it had a Great Clips barbershop that always seemed to be doing a thriving business.  I also needed to buy some strawberries and yogurt at the time and decided I would check out the shop.

The attitude was refreshing the second I walked in the store.  I was heartily welcomed, and the person who greeted me said she could cut my hair immediately.  I cruised into a chair, gave her my hair specs, and she pleasantly cut my hair, quite professionally, in 17 minutes start to finish.  The tab was $11 for a “senior.”  I was so pleased I gave her a $5 tip.  My cost at Erin’s shop, which was much more sterile than Great Clips, was $25 with a tip.

Erin, my barber, became my former barber that day.

As a student of business I understand how big chains like Great Clips and Sport Clips are killing off the small guys, and there is something sad about that.  But the clear fact to me after that first haircut in the Meijer superstore building was that I like this approach more than the Erin approach I had clung to.

I also realized that a small business like Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert cannot afford to disappoint its customers, because they always have other options.  I knew this, of course, as a business veteran, but when it was demonstrated to me as a customer it had extra impact.

Erin has a real problem as a one-man band who wants a “life,” but as a client, I do not care.  I want my haircut when I want my haircut, and if I do not get it I look for another option.  If that option turns out to be significantly better for me she loses me as a client.

It is a lesson to teach employees who may take a cavalier approach to deliveries.   The customer has their needs.  The needs may conflict with your well-laid plans or unexpected breakdowns.  And they don’t care – nor would you.

Question: Do you prefer a private barber shop or a chain?

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Football Breather

By Lloyd Graff

I needed a football weekend badly.  It had been a week of business travel, end-of-the-month tension, end-of-the-year push, and what I really wanted was to watch some competitive football on TV and forget about business.  Wow, did I ever get what I was wishing for.

First game I watched was Oklahoma versus Texas for the Big 12 Championship.  I wanted to watch this game for one reason.  “Who is this kid, Kyler Murray, playing quarterback for the Sooners?”

He didn’t play last year because Baker Mayfield won the Heisman for them and became the Number 1 pick in the NFL by the Cleveland Browns.  Mayfield threw the ball a million times a game, and Oklahoma scored 60 points just for the fun of it.  I wanted to know if Kyler Murray was the real thing or the next Tim Tebow.

Guys, this Kyler Murray is the real thing.  Against a very capable Texas defense he showed accuracy, passion, and phenomenal quickness as a runner.  Oklahoma beat Texas 39-27, got into the National Playoffs, deservedly, and Murray probably won himself the Heisman Trophy.  And the amazing thing is that Murray is also a terrific baseball prospect.  I foresee him as a Top Ten NFL pick, similar to quarterbacks like DeShaun Watson and Russell Wilson.  Loved watching that game, but it only got better.

The late-afternoon game was Alabama versus Georgia, #1 against #4 in the college rankings.  Alabama was last year’s National Champion, top ranked all year behind the “Throwin’ Samoan” Tua Tagovailoa, who was recruited out of Hawaii to play in Tuscaloosa.

Tua had put up amazing numbers all season and ‘Bama has been completely dominant, but Saturday Georgia was even better—most of the game.  The Bulldogs led by two touchdowns in the middle of the third quarter and had completely ruined Tagovailoa’s game with a brutal pass rush.

The back story for the Crimson Tide is that its coach, Nick Saban, who everybody loves to hate, except his players, had replaced Jalen Hurts, who had brilliantly led the team for two seasons, with the Throwin’ Samoan because he was a far superior passer.  But Tua couldn’t deal with the pressure Saturday afternoon and finally was forced out of the game with an ankle injury.  In comes Hurts to finish the game and come back from a seemingly insurmountable Georgia lead.

The rap on Hurts was that he was a lousy passer, but on this Saturday he threw like Joe Namath.  Alabama rallied, and Georgia crumbled.  With very little time remaining Hurts bluffed a pass and ran a quarterback draw play for the winning touchdown.  It was an incredibly emotional finish when the substitute, who everybody thought should have left “Bama when Saban benched him, embraced his coach who was almost in tears on the podium accepting the Conference trophy.  I felt like crying sitting in front of my TV in Chicago.  This is why I love football in December.

On Sunday the Chicago Bears played the New York Giants without their starting quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky.  The Bears are trying to go from last to first in their division and had an 8-3 record going into the game, but with Chase Daniel, a career backup at quarterback, against a team with a still-capable Eli Manning and Rookie-of-the-Year running back Saquon Barkley, in New York, it was going to be a tough game.

The Giants played better than the Bears, particularly in the second half.  With less than two minutes left in the game the Giants punted the ball to the Bears end zone and with fantastic athleticism downed the ball on the one-yard line.  The Bears were down a touchdown.  On the first play Chase Daniel throws a short pass to Taylor Gabriel.  The Giants defender punches the ball out of his hands, and the fumble is recovered by New York on the ten-yard line.

But the Bears did not give up.  The Giants played traditional safety-first football, figuring that a field goal puts them up 10 points, a seemingly insurmountable lead with one minute left in the game and the Bears with only one timeout.

This is FOOTBALL in the NFL.  The Bears took the kickoff and quickly marched down the field.  They were stopped deep in Giants’ territory and opted to kick a field goal to save time.

With less than a minute left, the only long-shot chance the Bears had was to try an onside kick.  Only 3 of 39 such kicks had been successful this season, but the Bears recovered the ball when the overrated, self-proclaimed Giants’ superstar O. J. Beckham, Jr., casually sauntered to the bouncing kick allowing the frantic Bears to recover it.

With just a few seconds left, the Bears moved the ball towards the end zone culminating with a halfback pass by the team’s star, Tarik Cohen, a 5’7” dynamo from Bunn, North Carolina, for a touchdown at the buzzer.

The Bears lost in overtime, but the comeback was fantastic.

I was still not totally footballed out, so I checked out the Sunday-night game, Pittsburgh Steelers versus the L.A. Chargers.  You watch this game because it is Phillip Rivers versus Ben Roethlisberger, both Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have weathered a hundred injuries and concussions but play with a passion that even a baseball nerd can enjoy.

It was another nutty game of two totally different halves.  Pittsburgh rushed Rivers like madmen early, and Rivers struggled, even though he has the fastest release in the game.  L.A. racked up two yards rushing in the entire first half and trailed 21-3.

Seemingly, the Steelers were exhausted after their brilliant start, and Rivers began a counter-assault.  Players on both teams were dropping like flies in the contest, but Rivers kept throwing, and his top receiver, Keenan Allen, kept catching (14 receptions).  Pittsburgh’s big lead melted, and the Chargers pulled ahead in the end with a winning field goal.

I was exhausted, but exhilarated.  I was looking for a football breather from real life, and this weekend gave it to me.

Question: Do you enjoy the violence of football?

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Riding Into 2019

By Lloyd Graff

We are at the 1/16 pole headed to the finish line of 2018.  What does the news tell us about 2019 business?

As usual it is a mixed-up picture – a patchwork mosaic of information and gut feel.

GM announced yesterday that it is going to let go of 25% of its salaried employees.  This is probably overdue for the still bloated Detroit company but, nevertheless, shocking for a company that is making loads of money now.  But GM, like Ford, sees a changed new-car industry within 5-10 years and is shedding its pouch to prepare.  Sales are down a bit now, but this move is not about the American economy at the moment; it is about autonomous cars, also the possibility of electric cars, but mainly it’s about bye bye baby boomers, hello Generation Z, who wants to live in cities and is not particularly enamored of horsepower.

Then there is General Electric as a $9 stock.  When a Wall Street raider smells opportunity it often ends up as chaos on the ground.  Nelson Peltz buys big into GE, and now the company is being dismembered, and the stock falls by two-thirds, and healthy divisions are being scavenged for quick cash to assuage credit jackals.  Do you think that scares top people at GM and Ford?  So we see them try to get out in front by slicing jobs at GM and sacrificing car lines and pushing trucks and SUVs at Ford.  They both smell the autonomous car upheaval and are shaving costs, accumulating cash, and investing in artificial intelligence so they aren’t future casualties.

But for precision-machining people times are darn good right now and generally looking quite promising headed into 2019.

Courtesy of the Boston Herald

But what about housing, another leg of the economic stool?  New home sales are soft, starts are soggy, even used home sales are off, but it does not mean that folks are terribly down on housing.  It’s the bite of higher interest rates which is playing out in soft sales.  Still, plenty of folks are taking money out of their homes to spiff them up.  My wife and I are spending a lot of dough to remodel our 43-year-old home, not because it will enhance its value enormously, but to enhance our pleasure in living in it.  A 4.7% refi may bite a little, but it does not appear high enough to stop the renovation boom.  Check out Lowe’s and Home Depot; they are definitely not suffering.

But then there is the stock market plummeting.  Apple belching on too many phones that are barely better than the previous incarnation, and the company trying to make the Apple Watch the next big thing when it is really the next little thing.

Oil prices are plummeting for no apparent reason except the hedge funds were idiots who believed Goldman Sachs when they made their “big call” that oil was going to $110 a barrel because of Iran sanctions and OPEC hunger.  But they forgot about the ingenuity of dudes in the Permian Basin who have rewritten the drilling rules and resurrected fields that Big Oil had left for dead.  Then the poor hedge fund geese followed the leader and panicked, pushing prices from $75 a barrel to $52.  The price will rebalance in the $60-$65 range after a few more hedge fund tearful mea culpas.

I look for a good 2019 for the machining business if the Fed does not go nuts on raising rates to squelch the inflation that isn’t happening other than wages going up which is a good thing, on the whole, for the economy.

Then there is President Trump, tweeting at 4:00 in the morning and playing his high-stakes games with China.  This does spook me because I doubt Trump knows his endgame, and the Chinese are on their back foot right now and therefore possibly dangerous.  A naval engagement with the United States would not be a good thing for the world economy.

We have Buenos Aires talks coming up in a couple days.  Trump will talk to Xi.  The Dow will go up or down 1000 points.  And the world will go on.

Question: Is automotive work a good place to be in 2019?

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My Gratitude List

By Noah Graff

I am like many people in this world, despite having so many things I should feel grateful for—living in a country with so many opportunities, being born into a well-off family with parents and siblings who love me, having a good career, etc… I still find myself plagued by negative self-talk and being annoyed by what I label as “First World problems.”

After getting a recommendation from many self-help books and podcasts I started making a gratitude list almost every morning since July of this year. Most of the time I write down 7-10 things into my iPhone. Often the lists repeat themselves with things like, “I’m grateful for my wife Stephanie, I’m grateful for my family, I’m grateful I woke up in a warm home, I’m grateful I am healthy enough to get out of bed, and I’m grateful I get to create blogs and podcasts and broadcast them to thousands of people.” I have found that when I make these lists I genuinely feel better throughout the day than if I had not done so.

Noah’s Gratitude list on his iPhone

Right now I’m listening to a book by A.J. Jacobs, a favorite author of mine, called Thanks a Thousand. The book follows Jacobs in his quest to thank 1,000 people who contribute to his morning cup of coffee. He personally thanked the barista, the coffee farmers, the people from the water company, the people who build the skids to haul the coffee, the people who cut down the lumber that makes the paper for the coffee cups—you get the gist.

Jacobs discovered that when he told people he was grateful for what they did he felt happier.

In a podcast Jacobs quoted a Benedictine monk who said, “Happiness doesn’t lead to gratitude, gratitude leads to happiness.” It sounds paradoxical but studies by psychologists have shown this to be true. Studies have also shown that people who are the most grateful are those who help others the most.

Maybe you feel crappy today. Maybe things are just not going well in your life right now. Consider making a gratitude list or just telling someone that you are grateful for them. You may be surprised how you feel afterward.

Question: What three things are you most grateful for right now? (I would appreciate it if we refrained from politics.)

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Buying and Selling Machining Businesses

By Lloyd Graff

I’m writing this blog to announce a slight shift in my business career, which has been evolving this year.

Several longtime clients of Graff-Pinkert have asked me to help them find machining businesses to acquire and other owners have requested I find them a buyer for their businesses because they felt that I had the right network and skill set to do it. My initial inclination was that I’m purely a machinery dealer, not a business broker. But then I thought, why not try this. Perhaps I can add value for some people who I really care about. If I hit a dead end I’ll know soon enough. Currently I have four deal deals in process and have completed two.

Lloyd Graff, Owner of Graff-Pinkert and Today’s Machining World.

I have not approached this task like a traditional business broker who would contact private equity groups because my clients have preferred that I not publicize their decision to the world, thus jeopardizing their long-term relationships with customers and employees. Such a broad gage approach can also be toxic as far as tipping off the seller’s competitors who are good at sniffing out situations and taking advantage of them. Despite nondisclosure arrangements that supposedly insure anonymity in the market, a business broker soliciting offers is going to inadvertently leak a potential seller or elicit rumors.

I have been able to keep a lid on leaks and rumors by connecting with prospects directly, because I have stuck primarily within my extensive network of relationships within the precision machining industry rather than try to cover the gamut of businesses in the marketplace. I also have focused on companies doing $20-million-in-sales or less, because I do not feel comfortable right now with bigger transactions.

One trend which has surprised me is how many foreign firms are highly motivated now to enter the American market in this field and are looking for businesses in our sweet spot. Our extensive network of users, suppliers and other dealers worldwide has served us well in this search. To Europeans, South Americans and Asians America truly looks like the land of opportunity, and in many cases their existing customers are asking them to do business here.

I don’t want to take on a lot of projects, because they are quite time consuming and I want to be able to give them the attention they deserve. I would like to work on 6 or 8 a year that I think I can shepherd to conclusion.

I may not be long on mergers and acquisitions experience but I know the people in the machining business. It appears that my ability to “talk the talk” and really listen to people explain their needs resonates today in this field.

This is a fascinating new gig for me, and I have Noah and Rex Magagnotti adding their knowledge and networking to help make it work.

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Why I Didn’t Vote

By Lloyd Graff

It’s November 6, and I’m sitting at Starbucks writing this piece, across from the polling place I chose not to vote at in 2018.

For over 50 years I have voted at every opportunity. I’ve voted for Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Idiots. But this year I’m not going to be an idiot and participate in an exercise that does nothing positive for me or my community and wastes almost two hours of my precious day.

In my America of 2018 the political system has evolved into a fat duopoly (a dual monopoly) of parties that vie for the spoils from the willing masses who lemmingly abet them.

Maybe I would feel differently if I had just one actual race where I felt my vote would matter, but in my Chicago south suburb of Olympia Fields this year the political institutions, Democrats, Republications and a cynical press have totally turned me off. For Illinois Governor I have two centimillionaires who have been throwing dirt at each other for six months. Bruce Rauner, the Republican, has been an impotent failure trying to move an utterly recalcitrant legislature. J.B. Pritzker, the Democrat who inherited a real estate fortune, seemingly has done very little in his life except “live large”—in his case 300 pounds worth. For my choice for Congress I have none. Robin Kelly, a pleasant lady and Democrat who I wouldn’t recognize if she was standing in front of me at Starbucks, is unopposed. She is a professional unknown, perfect for my locale which elected Jesse Jackson Jr. for a decade before she inherited the job.

I have come to see our National and Illinois political scene as a well-orchestrated charade game played by the insiders of both political parties. It appears they do hate one another, and they fight hard for the right to collect the spoils of power.

Photo courtesy of fee.org

The lobbyists will pay greater tribute to the winners than the losers, but the sad fact is that neither party really cares about the poor and sick and dispossessed because they are regarded as just tools to be used to amass power and win the GAME.

Donald Trump is an interesting intruder into the political duopoly, but he has embraced the Republican Party and they have embraced him to stay in the game. Trump has done a lot of good things for the country in two years, but his narcissism and ego make him prone to major miscalculation in the world arena. If I could vote for Trump on today’s Illinois ballot I would vote, but on today’s ballot there is nothing for me to vote for. So here I am at Starbucks, bitter that America has a political system that rewards greed and voter laziness.

I will watch the returns come in tonight hoping for a stalemate in the Congress. Trump needs restraint, and a Democratic House will provide that. A Republican Senate will restrain the lefty loonies in Congress and hopefully keep the economy on track.

But until we break the grip of the haters in both parties and attract some people who actually care about doing good, not just keeping power and accumulating spoils, I think I’ll just boycott elections and drink my coffee.

Question: Does the state of American politics make you sick?

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Trick-or-Treat Economy

By Lloyd Graff

The mavens and savants are struggling with lots of economic numbers coming in that do not conform to popular wisdom.

We have a very tight labor market right now, but the wage increases are merely bubbling up at a 2% per year pace.

I have to admit this number does surprise me because Amazon just raised everybody at least a buck an hour, and the minimum wage law, which used to be an issue for the angry liberals, is now a forgotten artifact in a competitive economy.

People in the food-serving business do have to pay more or they will have nobody to flip the burgers, but in the industrial economy I have been surprised that the wage push appears to be subdued.  People are just getting by with fewer people than they used to, because hiring is so difficult.  A lot of people who are joining the production workforce are fresh faces at lower wages than the retirees who are exiting.

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Investment by middle-sized business is softer than one would expect with 3-4% GDP growth in the economy.

Bigger companies, particularly a lot of foreign firms, are investing major money in factories, equipment and training but not small and mid-sized firms.  For independent business people the scars of 2008-2009 are still palpable.  I think many older business folks are still in a “recovery” state and very cautious about acquiring debt to expand.  Also, the tax law favors Type “C” corporations over “S” corporations which are common for small businesses.

Big companies, whose managers are mandated to grow their companies without having to spend their own cash, are putting up new factories and buying others.  Small and midsize firms find it harder to borrow and are inclined toward conservatism.

For those wanting to sell out, they need to build “EBITDA” to command a decent price, and often the willing buyers are private equity firms that want to milk the acquisitions to quickly pay down debt then flip them to the next willing group.

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Donald and Melania Giving Candy to Trick-or-Treaters at the White House.

The stock market is sliding down.  This should not be terribly baffling after nine years of buoyancy.  When the Dow was over 26,000 I found myself checking my retirement account every day.  For me this was a sure sign that we were headed for a plunge.

Looking at it coldly, the Fed has been whacking the market incessantly with rate raises.  The short-term rates go directly at my lending line, making me wince quarterly.  Interestingly, the 10-year bond which dictates mortgage rates has been relatively kind to us because zillions have poured into that bond from around the world.  Nevertheless, mortgage rates have moved up faster than the 10-year has, and the new and used home markets are sluggish.  I think that many people, correctly or not, view the home market to be out of reach for what they want and expect.  One significant reason for this is the choice by many owners to rent their homes by the day, the month or the year because CD rates are paltry and demand for rental housing is robust.  The amount of owner-occupied housing is falling in America, a phenomenon few predicted 5 or 10 years ago.

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We are in a period when automotive is stagnant, housing is mediocre, rates are rising, wage growth is modest, stocks are falling, yet small business confidence is at record levels and much of the Press says America is a mess.  Pretty weird.

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I’ll take another shot at explaining what is going on.

The U.S. economy is running on borrowed money.  The tax cut made for bigger deficits, but the happy fact is that all the borrowing is well within our means – if the economy keeps growing and folks are confident.

The big jump in military spending has given us more extra juice.  Will the glee over defense splurging go on forever?  Doubtful, but for now it is a plus.

Business owners, especially small business owners, like Donald Trump, tax cuts and lighter regulation.  The New York Times and CNN hate this fact, but it is true for now.  I think the stock market drop is a hedge by Wall Street against a Democratic victory in the midterms.  If the Republicans get to 55-45 in the Senate I think we’ll quickly see stocks jump 5-10%.

If you’ve read this far you have absorbed 600 words of Lloyd Graff’s opinions.  Do you agree?  Are you confident or pessimistic?  Are you making more money and saving it or buying a new F-150?  Have the higher interest rates soured you or do you ignore them?  Sock it to me.

Question: Is your confidence in the U.S. economy rising or falling?

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Why do I care so much?

By Lloyd Graff

The World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers starts tonight in Beantown.

I’ll probably watch, but I may listen to a podcast or write or play Words with Friends. But if the Chicago Cubs were in it this year I would be watching with rapt attention and texting my son-in-law, Scott, and Noah. I’d be living and dying with the team I love so much.

Why do I care so much?

I don’t know the players personally. They change every season and often a lot during the season. Many of them are from the Dominican or Puerto Rico and barely speak my language. I doubt I could have a meaningful conversation with most of these young kids who have devoted their lives to refining their swings or their sliders. Yet I spend hundreds of hours a year obsessed with how many games they win, their on-base percentages, and the spin rate of their breaking pitches.

My daughter, Sarah, is a Rabbi in Palo Alto, and every year in her most important sermon she talks about the Cubs at some point. It has become a trademark for her, a part of her brand, and I know I am partly responsible for her mixing Cubs and religion. For me and her, the Cubs rooting is akin to a religious experience.

Jackie Robinson safely steals home plate in 1955 under the tag of New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in the eighth inning of the World Series opener at New York’s Yankee Stadium. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Recorder

The Cubs are certainly secular and do not rely on a higher power, but the importance of ritual imbues both baseball and religion with a habit-forming routine. The routine and the history of both, ties families together and gives them endless topics of discussion and argument. Both invite converts yet do not accept them readily. A White Sox fan who claims he or she has embraced the Cubbies is regarded as untrue to his own faith and cannot easily be accepted as a “real” Cub fan.

I sometimes wonder how I became such an ardent Cub fan. My father did not grow up with baseball. His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. Sports were irrelevant to them.

But my mother, Thais Kassel, grew up within walking distance of Wrigley Field. Her father, Sam, loved the game and especially the Cubs. Sam Kassel’s mother owned a little grocery store, and Cubs players used to buy their booze there. My grandfather actually met Tinker, Evers and Chance of double-play fame in 1908 at her corner grocery.

Some of my earliest memories are of mother and grandfather, and talking about Jackie Robinson and Ernie Banks with them. I remember going to a Cubs-Dodgers game. The Cubs were terrible, but I saw Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider play, and Jackie Robinson stole home. I don’t remember much about my 0-10 years other than baseball, either talking about it or playing it.

My mom took me to a few Ladies’ Day games. Twenty-five cents to get into the Park. Baseball bound my mother and I together until she died in 1990.

But there’s more to my love of the Game than family and tradition. The nuances, the subtleties, the strategy fascinates me. In the recent National League Championship Series Craig Counsell, the Milwaukee Brewers’ manager, used an unorthodox approach with his pitchers. In one game he started his left-handed pitcher Wade Miley and then pulled him after one batter to try to fake out the Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts, on lineup matchups. The Brewers lost the game.

In the seventh, and deciding, game he used his most-potent weapon, pitcher Josh Hader, in the third through fifth innings thus losing him for the decisive final part of the game. The Brewers lost the game. Counsell was trying to finesse his lack of starting pitching, yet he had his best starter, Jhoulys Chacin, starting that game. People will argue about his strategy for years. It’s one of the beautiful things about the game.
I’ll be reading Cubs blogs all winter. Scrutinizing trades. Hoping the pitchers’ sore arms heal. God willing, 2019 will be our year again to celebrate.

Question: Do you still love baseball, or do you see it as yesterday’s game?

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Harvard Material

By Lloyd Graff

The recent Kavanaugh spectacle enthralled me as much as any big sports event. It really was the Super Bowl of Senate pillow fights, and I loved it.

Now we have another fascinating slugfest shaping up in Federal Court. It’s Harvard, Yale and MIT against the Asian kids and parents who want to break down the admissions barricades. Harvard and buddies in the Ivy League are fighting fiercely to uphold their right to handpick their Freshman class of 2,000 or so students. They want the right make their schools look how they like. Can you blame them? They are their schools, aren’t they?

Oh, if life were that simple.

Harvard, Yale and MIT are all private institutions, but they are the place Presidents come from, and Presidents want their kids to go there. It ain’t so easy to tell Barack and Michelle that daughter Malia did not make the cut. How about Ann Arbor instead?

Students Protesting Harvard’s Discrimination of Asian Applicants. Courtesy of xinhuanet.com.

According to some sources many other elite schools have higher average test scores than Harvard because Harvard takes into account other factors besides grades. Harvard took Malia Obama. It accepted George W. Bush to business school, a likable “C” student. Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, got into Harvard after the Kushner family pledged several million bucks to its endowment fund.

Life isn’t fair and neither is Harvard, but the hard question is “What is fair?”

Harvard thinks it should be able to take a terrific athlete who is a smart kid but no genius. It wants to be able to take a Mark Zuckerberg, son of a Jewish dentist in New Jersey, because he is a go-getter and has some special qualities. Harvard wants some African American kids in the class, whether they have perfect SAT numbers or not. The school has an almost equal number of female and male students while the national average of women in undergrad universities in 2017 was 56% according to The Atlantic. Is Harvard so wrong about putting together a more gender balanced class with a mix of rich kids, go-getters and jocks?

Way back in the day when I applied to college I knew that Northwestern had a Jewish quota, and it annoyed me when they rejected me probably because of my religion.

So it hits close to home when Harvard has a big donors slot, an athlete’s category and a “we can’t take too many Chinese and Indian kids policy” with the rationale that we might miss a Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.

In California, at an elite school like Caltech, the last Freshman class had 43% Asian students, but who’s counting? They take a more colorblind approach as a public university.

There is no perfect system of admission to a college like Harvard. The Crimson reported in March of 2018 that Harvard that accepted 1,962 of 42,749 students for its class of 2022. I really do sympathize with school’s dilemma. How do you turn down a charming, African American President’s daughter even if her test scores were not as high as an Indian kid from Louisville? The even harder question — should they? Malia Obama, with her name and upbringing may have a greater opportunity to change the world and bring positive feedback to Harvard than a kid who will probably become a chemistry professor.

The Justice Department is lining up against Harvard, MIT and Yale in this case. Is it correct from a public policy standpoint? I don’t know.

That’s why I’m really interested in what you folks think. Should test scores be the primary criterion for admission to the Harvard student body? Does Harvard or a business have the right to discriminate by body type or the quality of a smile? One day Brett Kavanaugh, Yale and Harvard Law Alumnus, may be the deciding vote on the outcome of this case.

Question: Should Harvard be able to take the students it wants?

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