Revisiting the USA, part 2

Andreas Ortmann
8 min readNov 20, 2022

Arrived on the East Coast after a six-hour red-eye flight from LAX to Boston Logan on Tuesday morning. Got a late seat assignment in row 7, and an empty seat next to my window seat, on a plane close to full capacity; managed to sleep much of the time. Sometimes you just luck out.

While Monday I was officially on vacation, I spent much of the day on reimbursement requests worth thousands of dollars and admin and student queries. Also wrote a number of messages about the things I forgot in the hotel safe in Santa Barbara. The 50 dollars (US dollars that is, so effectively 75 Aussie dollars) of FedEx payment, did not buy me same-day delivery unfortunately, so I will have to pick up all them things when going through Los Angeles again on the way back. At the end of the day, I was slightly dumfungled by hours of busy work. Sigh. Not the way to spend vacations especially if you have to deal with bureaucrats that insist you ought to have read a particular page out of thousands of pages that constitute University rules and regulations. Right.

All the while I am dealing with the mess that some UNSW IT dude managed to make of a simple transfer of files from my old laptop to a new one. Already spent literally days on trying, with the help of higher-level IT folks, to figure out where thousands of folders went that seem to have disappeared. Looks like the next few weeks will be mostly spent on consolidating what is on my new laptop, what was retrieved from the cloud, and what I backed up a couple of months ago to an external hard drive. Twice. My scheduled trip to Europe over Xmas and NY is off. Not happy.

The DoubleTree Hilton Boston Bayside is a property that has seen better days but its staff is consistently cool and helpful. Plus they have stable and free wifi. Well, most of the time. Quite liked my stay there. It helped that in walking distance there is huge supermarket and a liquor store with a respectable wine selection. That took care of my hotel room dining needs for the next three days. I am easy that way.

I have not had a tv for decades, so I normally I binge-watch on what hotels have on offer. That works reasonably well for example in Paris where your average hotel has zillions of news, sports, comedy, and movie channels. Not so here it seems. At least the Hilton where I stayed had sixty some channels, with only local news channel, a couple of local sports channel and that was that. The rest was colorful and mindless (and scary) crap. “Ich kann mich garnich entscheiden — Is alles so schoen bunt hier!”

The DoubleTree does have a free shuttle service. Got picked up at the airport by some tuff-looking kid — tattoos and all. He was talkative and confirmed that Boston was back to normal, just like much of the USA, at least in terms of covid. No face masks.

The political landscape, however, remains in limbo.

The day I arrived in Boston (Tuesday) Donnie, also known as Florida Man (as the New York Post called him in a scathing headline on the bottom of page 1), made, to no one’s surprise really, his announcement about running again for the presidency in 2024. Quite a number of folks had considerable fun with the announcement. CNN’s Chris Cillizza helpfully extracted the 51 most outlandish lines from Donnie’s one-hour meandering speech; quite a doozy it was. As Conway has argued, Trump is running because he is out for vengeance and hopes this way to escape prosecution. Which sounds right. I hope that of the various legal jeopardies that he faces, one will land him in the slammer. That a special councel now runs a couple of these investigations makes hopeful. That Donnie thought the DoJ’s move was disgraceful makes even more hopeful. In any case, few heavyhitters attended the announcement although Australia’s Gina Rinehart apparently did. Go, Gina, go! I am proud of you. Not!

Democrats subsequently mostly rooted for another presidential bid by Florida Man, to no one’s surprise. Donnie commands his base but that base is shrinking — even Murdoch and major donors have deserted him — and as the midterm elections have demonstrated, he has become a liability. Trump’s announcement presents a challenge for the Republican Party because, notwithstanding his loyal base of die-hard MAGA followers, most relevant Republican players, from McConnell, to DeSantis, and even Pence, seem to agree that with Trump the Republication Party will not win any election soon. Or as Mulvaney, former prominent lackey to Trump (former chief of staff, among other appointments), put it bluntly and provocatively, Donald Trump is the only Republican who can lose in 2024. That’s maybe overstating the case, alas the basic point is well taken. Mulvaney, however, also points out that with several candidates vying for votes that loyal base of die-hard MAGA followers might be large enough to make Trump once more the Republication Party’s candidate. Which seems not out of the realm of the impossible. It’s not over til its over, as Sepp Herberger opined. Elon “Space Karen” Mucketeer’s decision to allow Trump back on twitter also might affect the dynamics in unpredictable ways.

A couple of days later — after the Republicans won control of the House—, Pelosi announced that she would not contest the Democrat House majority leadership role again. Her speech was magnificent and worth listening to. It was telling though that, while the Democrats’ side of the House was at full capacity and then some, only about a dozen Republican representatives had the decency to attend her farewell speech of sorts. (She will stay on to represent her constituents.) It does not bode well.

With Republicans having narrowly won the House, Democrats having maintained control of the Senate, and several leadership contests on their way, it’s hard to predict what the next couple of years will bring. There will surely be considerable soul-searching on the Republican side and it is not clear to me that the multiple inquisitions and personnel decisions that McCarthy has announced will indeed materialize. I doubt that McCarthy will be under the thumb of the queen of MAGA, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who endorsed him recently. McCarthy will have to negotiate with Trump followers but also many, openly or not so openly, anti-Trumpers. These internal dynamics will be fascinating to watch. With their majority in the House does come responsibility for an economy that got clobbered through Russia’s war on Ukraine, resultant rocketing energy prices, etc. and the voters will hardly be impressed if all the House Republicans produce is internal bickering and theatre. Maybe some more bi-partisan legislating is around the corner. Not getting my hopes up too much.

Much of the couple of days I spent in Boston, I stayed in my room retrieving various email and newspaper subscription accounts. And my Twitter account, too. I also tried to make progress on recovering files that got lost when I tried to transition from my old laptop to a new laptop. Coincidentally, I filled out a Service Effectiveness Survey for my employer and another one for palgrave which asked me comment about our experience publishing with them. (I did not have many good things to say in both cases.) They came fast and furious these days, these surveys. They often are poorly constructed and it is not clear to me what one can learn from them. Except maybe from the open commentary. I did have some choice observations in both cases.

Most importantly, after a couple of hours of phone calls I managed to retrieve both my pension funds accounts and I also submitted to both a request for a statement of those accounts dated 10 August 2022, the day I was given Aussie permanent residency. The numbers on those statements will play an important role in assessing how much I will have to pay when finally — about a dozen years too late — I will transfer them funds to the land of Oz. Did I mention that pension fund and tax issues are a real pain when you have worked in several countries? It seems impossible to do it without expert help. On the positive side, the pension fund numbers look pretty nice, even with one of the funds having lost about 20 percent of its value this year alone. Sigh. Putler, you suck. (The current exchange rate will compensate for some of it.)

Now in Brunswick, via Portland. It’s gotten pretty cold; already regretting that I did not take my gloves with me. Snow is definitely in the air. (Not that I could not also have that in Sydney and Melbourne these days.) Nothing much seems to have changed in Brunswick on the surface. The same two cafes where you can sit, think, and write without being bothered are still there (The Bohemian and The Little Dog Cafe, the former one was there when I came in 1991 although it was then in a different location), the same delicatessen places (Lighthouse, Broadway, Tess’, the latter also, as Steve reminded me, a first-rate wine depot. I almost forgot but memory comes back) are still there, the two Indian places are, the two cleaners are, the three bank branches are, BullMoore — the music media empire founded by a Bowdoin student — is still in the same location, now hugely expanded, taking the whole of the groundfloor. A new Columbian place has opened that is quite good … but overall it’s a bit of time capsule, lil ole Brunswick …

In Brunswick meeting up with, and met already, some old friends and colleagues and the first ex. A few trips down memory lane were had, and will be had. Pleasant trips for sure. Selection bias sees to that.

I spent a decade (1991–2000) there and the memories are bittersweet.

My time at Bowdoin was an interesting one; after a senior colleague and I were asked to write an in-depth study on whether it would pay for the College to expand, I decided to put our insights into a policy prescription (adjusting of the teaching load, with teaching reductions for research-active faculty) that did not sit well with administration and some colleagues. What’s wrong with Bowdoin College?! became a local best-seller but ultimately got me into trouble (and taught me some of the most invaluable and enduring lessons about spinelessness in academia) but it also meant I departed with a 6-digit amount of money after I did some more research and provided some effective ammunition for the lawyer I brought in. In hindsight, that forced departure was one the better things that happened to me. As the saying goes, every end is a new beginning. More often than not for the better, at least in my experience.

Tomorrow, or the day after, off to Portland, where I hope to sort out for good social security entitlements, before I am off to The Big Apple on November 26.

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Andreas Ortmann

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …