Thursday, December 27, 2012

Where Were You Dec. 21?

Being a seer is a pretty cushy occupation. One of my old college buddies, Jim McCurdy, after trying business courses with moderate success decided to study meteorology. Shortly after his graduation, he landed a weather forecaster job at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Jim said it was the best job in the world. He couldn’t fail.

“When our predictions don’t work out quite right, we just say some highly unusual pattern developed at the last minute,” McCurdy said. “Everybody knows the weather is fickle, so nobody puts any blame on us.”

Something like that happened in many places Dec. 21, as we awaited the end of the world or the start of a new Mayan calendar cycle, depending on whose tea leaves you were reading. A convention center near Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza on Mexico’s Yucatan Penninsula was popular.

About a thousand shamans, seers, stargazers, yogis, sufis, and swamis gathered to participate with self-appointed leader Alberto Arribalzaga in experiencing spirals of light entering their heads. This phenomenon was expected to “generate powerful vortexes that cover the planet.” 

We’ve been to Chichen Itza. I was not terribly impressed, so it was easy to resist any impulse to go there to celebrate either the end of the world or the launching of a new one. As it turned out, being there could be dangerous. The guardian of the “sacred flame” burned a finger handling the kindling wood. He later had to scoop up a burning log that was knocked out of the brazier and threatened to start a blaze that might have destroyed the wooden stage.

Many celebrants from distant places raised their arms high toward the sun after it ushered in “cosmic dawn.” Unfortunately, those with fair skin suffered painful sunburns for their trouble, a fate that could have befallen me had I made the pilgrimage to the Yucatan.

These reports made me feel good about my decision to stay home. Seeking to bolster my confidence that the world was not going to end, I spent part of the day performing pelvic muscle contractions, an exercise that can improve one’s bladder control. I believed that would do more good for the world, at least my immediate world, than anything I could have accomplished in Mexico.

Meanwhile the good mystics at Chichen Itza settled down once they realized apocalypse was not going to be now and proclaimed on Dec. 22 the start of a new era. Celebrants said they had witnessed the “birth of a new and better age.”

If that turns out to be true, I promise to hurry off to Chichen Itza and hug every Mayan I can find, but only after applying generous amounts of sun screen. We might have to wait another 5,000 or so years for the Mayan New Age to fully develop, so for now let's just wish each other a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What a Great Idea!

The National Rifle Association scored a bulls eye (pun intended) with its delayed pronouncement regarding the slaughter at Newtown, CT. The NRA plan is to post an armed guard in every U.S. school while we wait to understand and deal with the mentality of deranged killers, something humans have tried and failed to do for a few thousand years or so. 

The NRA’s inelegant spokesman Wayne LaPierre no doubt considered all the advantages of the plan he espoused. We have 132,183 first through twelfth grade schools in the U.S. One new job at each school thus would improve the national unemployment situation a trifle. That trifle would, of course, cost the federal government or local governments and school districts bundles they don't have, but the generous LaPierre has offered to have the NRA fund development of a training plan for the new hires to defray part of the cost.

More guns would save lives!
We, of course, would want our school guards to be well-equipped. Only the latest weaponry would do. The NRA plan thus would result in adding 132,183 gun sales or more to augment the 300 million weapons how in circulation in the U.S.

Adding the new guns would provide a mini-stimulus to our still-recovering economy and some welcome additional cash for gun manufacturers. We assume guns manufactured outside the U.S. would be banned under the plan, but maybe not. That would be “gun control,” and the NRA generally does not welcome any of that sort of nonsense.

The number of Americans continues to grow as our resource base declines, so LaPierre’s proposal would help a little with population control. One more death would be added to the toll in each new school massacre. The shooter would kill the guard before firing at teachers and children.

Perhaps we could solve this problem by expanding the plan to arm every teacher and child. Then shooters might be killed before much additional damage was done, although gun battles are notorious for generating random shots that frequently injure or kill nonparticipants. This conventional wisdom could be wrong, because NRA experts constantly tell us that guns don't kill people. It follows that stray bullets don't kill people, either.

In addition to streamlining the population, LaPierre would improve the Constitution by making it more compact. His rather vague statements that we should censor undesirable media in preference to improving gun safety controls would require us to delete the part of the first amendment that guarantees the right of free speech. Perhaps his plan is to do away with the first amendment altogether, thus elevating his sacred second amendment to the top of the list.

Carried to its extreme, the NRA plan also would add to pleasant childhood memories for all Americans. Getting an education in concentration camps surely would be more delightful than attending traditional schools. 

There is much to be said for the NRA plan, but none of it smacks of intelligence.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Exhausting Christmas Past

The story that follows, with minor changes, appeared in my memoir, “Days With The Dads: Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist,” which was published in 2008. Please read the conclusion with a grain of salt. I never again got the opportunity to play Santa, but I’d have done it in a heartbeat just to see the expressions of awe and joy on the little ones’ faces.

Best wishes to you and all the kids in your life for a wonderful holiday season.

                      * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ho, Ho, Ho. . . .No, No, No

It has been hard to escape Santa since merchants succeeded in advancing the holiday season to start right around Thanksgiving time.

You now can visit a Santa just about everywhere serious shopping is happening, rent one for the kids’ party, or be one after you buy an outfit complete with beard for $39.95.

Santas weren’t nearly so ubiquitous in 1957, but they did make plenty of appearances and I was among those on duty. No chimneys were involved in my appearance. It was a bigger deal than that. I arrived on Broadway Avenue in De Pere, Wisconsin, in a giant motorized sleigh pulled by plastic reindeer, courtesy of the  Chamber of Commerce.

In a discussion of how we at the Journal-Democrat were going to participate in Santa’s annual visit, a burning question was who would play the rotund one since publisher John Creviere was getting a bit old for the job. As the youngest, chubbiest, and most naive person around, I was volunteered.

The elder Creviere’s lengthy resume included work with amateur acting groups. He had a professional makeup kit and knew how to use it. He made 21-year-old me into a truly authentic-looking Claus, complete with rosy cheeks and a beard the little ones couldn’t pull off.

The children of De Pere certainly believed I was the real thing. Santa and a couple of helpers handed out 2,000 popcorn balls during the event. It was a very long day.

A photo, taken by Paul Creviere, of one handout to a cute little tyke appeared on the front page of our paper that week. That was pretty easy to pull off, since John owned the printing press, Paul was the general manager, and I was the editor.

It was the only time a photo of me ever graced the front page of a newspaper, and I couldn’t even identify myself in the caption!

Santa was totally pooped after passing out all the goodies and muttering nice things to the multitude of kiddies. When John started removing my greasepaint after handing me a shot of brandy, he asked how I was feeling about the whole thing. I was feeling like I never wanted to play Santa again.

Ho, ho,ho, but no thanks. I learned it was much more pleasant to admire the activities of the old gent from a distance than to occupy the suit. There are easier ways to get your picture in the paper.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Can I Say?

I borrowed this graphic from blogger Pied Type. With it, she listed the names and ages of all the victims of our latest massacre. Each one will be missed. I can think of nothing more to say.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

They Oughta Have Heart

Absurd Supreme Court rulings notwithstanding, few would believe big corporations have all the attributes of people. For one thing, people have hearts. Big corporations don’t these days, if they ever did.  Pfizer, the biggest drug provider in the world proved it once again this holiday season.

Pfizer announced on Dec. 5 that it will cut its primary-care sales force. The corporation did not specify how many people will lose their jobs, or at which locations the cuts will be made. It would be hard to design an announcement to induce more stress in employees and have a more negative effect on productivity if one had those goals in mind. Thousands now are sitting and wondering, “Will it be me?”

The doomed workers won’t have to stew for long, however. The company said it will notify affected employees of their job termination on Dec. 20. What a Christmas present!

Apparently not employee lives
Couldn’t this affair have been handled in a more sensitive way? A simple delay of the whole thing until after the holidays would have been better. And a public announcement the same day the notices were delivered probably would have been less stressful for those involved. Perhaps the dolts who planned the timing could do something positive and hand themselves a termination notice.

But than, the whole affair smells like a year-end stock manipulation. The news was "leaked" to Dow Jones. Nevertheless, if a stock price uptick is the goal the result still shows a lack of sensitivity toward employees.

According to my local newspaper, Pfizer has reduced its workforce by about 50,000 people since 2005. Despite this indication of long-time poor management, the company continues to reward its top executives with huge multimillion-dollar compensation packages.

Maybe those managers could do the company a favor by taking early retirements. That would free lots of salary money that could be used to retain employees who make positive contributions to the corporation. That would show some real heart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Correction: It Was "Friendly" Fire

My post on October 11, 2011 said:

“Capt. Drew E. Russell (U.S. Army), 25, Scotts, Michigan. Killed by a rocket-propelled grenade In Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, October 8, 2011.”

That statement was based on an official announcement by the Army. Now, a review of internal Army records and interviews in the U.S. and Afghanistan by the Association Press show the report was untrue in one important respect. Capt. Russell was not killed by “the enemy” as the brief account implied. He died after being shot three times in the back in what investigators called a calculated and coordinated attack by Afghan soldiers entrusted to work alongside their U.S. partners.

At least 63 coalition troops have been killed and more than 85 wounded in some 46 insider attacks so far this year.

Does anyone out there believe we and our allies should stay in Afghanistan?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Geezer Encounters Obamacare

Although some major provisions of the much-discussed Affordable Care Act don’t kick in for another year or more, a few things are in place now. I had my first encounter with Obamacare last month.

The pleasant lady on the phone said, “It’s time to schedule your Medicare wellness exam.”

“Is that a new name for my annual physical?” I asked.

“You’ll find it’s a little different,” she said, “and one nice difference is that it’s free. Medicare now is required to provide a yearly wellness assessment, so you won’t have any copay or other cost.”

I like free things. We agreed on a date and time very quickly.

The preliminary stuff conducted by our favorite nurse was same old, same old. She got my weight, pulse reading, and blood pressure recorded and settled me in to wait for our family doc. He has been conducting my annual physicals for the past four years. I’ve been pleased with his professionalism and genial manner. Usually, he spends 20 minutes to a half hour with me.

This time, our meeting was more than a little bit different. The doctor was with me for a solid hour. He ran through a lengthy checklist item-by-item, including questions regarding home safety and my mental state. I’ve been getting annual physicals for more than 20 years from highly competent doctors, but never was one nearly as extensive as the new Medicare exam, which is required by Obamacare.

When we finished the exam, my doctor handed me a copy of the form he filled out as he went. With it, I can tell precisely what my major office test readings were, the names of two additional tests he would arrange for me at a local hospital, and his recommendations for the future.

I know from earlier talks that my doctor has not been a fan of Obamacare. I tried tactfully to get a handle on his current opinion by asking him if the new requirements caused any big changes in his procedures. “Well,” he said, “there’s a whole new emphasis on prevention, and that’s a good thing.”

As one element of prevention for me, he scheduled a bone density test, something the new system recommends for people my age. My Medicare and Blue Cross insurances would have covered almost all the cost of the test in the past, but a $65 co-pay charge would have come out of my pocket. Obamacare requires that Medicare cover all the costs if the test results from an annual wellness exam. The co-pay was waived. We can always use an extra $65 around our place, and the free exam added another nice bonus to our modest household budget.

Obamacare also requires health providers to join the modern world by automating their systems to better track and share data. My doctor has been ahead of that game for some time. He conducts his physical exams with a lap-top computer up and running. However, getting exam results has been another matter. That often involved several phone calls and some minor delays, which could cause important misunderstandings.

This time, the results of my bone density test and the doc’s advice to make a little change in my lifestyle because of it appeared as an e-mail notice that the message was readily available to me on a secure site.

The message was clearly written and invited me to start a computer dialogue with the doctor if I had questions. I liked that a lot. In addition to pleasing patients, the quick, accurate communication probably will reduce some administrative costs at his clinic.

We are told that Obamacare does need some improvements, especially in the establishment of insurance pools by states. However, so far in my book it gets an AAA rating.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Words Do Matter

Perhaps if those interested in government that serves the people stopped talking about “entitlements” and started describing programs that help millions of  Americans live decent lives as “safety nets,” we would have a more rational public discourse about fiscal responsibility.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Honest Abe's Madison Adventures

Abraham Lincoln seems to be popping up all over.

Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln,” seven years in the making, is cleaning up at box offices in theaters across the land. Preparations are under way for a big 150th anniversary celebration of The Great Emancipator’s Gettysburg Address, a bit of rhetoric we had to memorize in grade school. My local newspaper chimed in the other day with a full-page description of Abe’s 1856 visit to Kalamazoo, the only time he set foot in Michigan.

And the University of Wisconsin issued various news stories describing its relationship to the famous president.

UW band members ham it up with Abe
“Honest Abe” has been something special on the Madison campus since 1909, 100 years after Lincoln’s birth. To mark the anniversary, university officials unveiled a large statue on Bascom Hill of a sitting Lincoln. Today Abe still sits squarely in front of the old administration building atop the hill. Over the years, he has been subjected to numerous student pranks and the subject of several fanciful stories.

Many believe the UW statue is modeled on the more-famous seated Abe at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Not so. It is a replica of a statue erected in Lincoln’s hometown of Hodgenville, KY. A Wisconsin alumnus bought the farm where Lincoln was born and commissioned creation of the original.

A frosty Abe got student help
Wisconsin students have done their best to make Lincoln feel at home in Madison. They’ve decorated him with various hats and costumes. During one especially cold winter, a pair of earmuffs helped Abe survive. Of course, the earmuffs were cardinal, one of the school's colors.

Politics on at least one occasion got into the decorating act.  Back in the 1950s infamous Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy placed the university among the institutions he accused of harboring communists (without citing any evidence). Someone gave Abe a coat of red paint, either in sympathy with or protest of the charges.

Wisconsin historians cite several connections to Lincoln and his political associates. Ripon is just 75 miles from Madison. The small city claims to be the birthplace of the Republican Party. It hosted an 1854 meeting of the group that founded the party.

The university, and many others, got a huge boost from the Morrill Land Grant College Act, which Lincoln approved. It allowed the school to buy a 195-acre “experimental farm” in 1866 for $28,000. That land now is the major part of the campus. The site of the university’s football field, Camp Randall, was a Union soldier training camp during the War Between the States. It also served for a time as a camp for Confederate prisoners.

A new grad courts Abe in front of the balcony made famous by a long line of fraternity Firemen.
Recent university stories emphasize two Bascom Hill statue traditions. New graduates believe they will fulfill career goals if they climb onto Lincoln’s lap and whisper their aspirations into his ear. Some think a little kiss on his cheek will help their cause. Alums and students alike visiting the hill believe good luck will be theirs if they rub Abe’s left foot.

Understandably, university accounts omit some of the racier myths involving the statue. In my day, students understood that Abe would leap to his feet if a female virgin walked in front of him. The coeds outwitted the perpetrators of that legend. During four years of regularly plodding up Bascom Hill I never saw a girl in front of Abe. They always were careful to walk behind him.

One fraternity (not mine) once or twice a year pulled off the most well-known initiation stunt on campus right behind the sitting Lincoln. From the group of would-be members the actives selected one “Fireman.” Around noon when crowds of students were on the hill, the brethren somehow sneaked the Fireman onto the Bascom Hall balcony directly behind the Lincoln statue. Wearing an appropriate red hard-hat, the Fireman pretended to crank a siren while he wailed siren-like sounds at the top of his voice.

The fraternity’s pledges were eager to earn the Fireman designation. Active members conferred the “honor” after measuring the length of the initiate’s . . . (you know what).

Abe is said to have grinned when the Fireman sounded his siren. Honestly, Abe, did you?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chevrolet Unseats Romance

General Motors recently closed a chapter in automotive history that provided more than one thrill for young Americans. It announced from Detroit that the 2013 Chevrolet Impala will be the last sedan to feature a front bench seat. Chevrolet’s first sedan, built in 1911, had a three-across front seat, and that design has been available ever since.

Over the years, bench front seats gradually became so uncommon that recent car buyers had to pay a premium to get them. Last year, GM said, only one in 10 Impala buyers was willing to pony up an extra $195 for the flat seat.

“A lot of people prefer bucket seats because they’re sporty, even in models that aren’t sports cars, the Associated Press quoted Clay Dean, GM director of design, as saying. “Our customers also appreciate the center console as a convenient place to store their phone and other personal items.”

Farewell, bench seats.
Convenience be damned, I say. I owned a sleek black-and-silver 1957 Impala sedan with a front bench seat while courting a pretty young lady who later became beautiful wife Sandy.

Those bench seats were good for lots of more interesting things than serving as a place to park your sunglasses. Dean admitted as much: “There is certain nostalgia for bench seats, like being able to snuggle up with your date at a drive-in movie . . . “

The announcement of GM’s intent to make Chevrolet sedans a lot less fun observed that they and other automakers will continue to offer front bench seats in pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. In recent years sales of these vehicles have boomed while GM sedan sales declined.  I always wondered why, because many owners of the more-rugged vehicles are never seen hauling anything or traveling on backcountry roads. Now I think I know.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

After the Vote: Nothing and Everything Has Changed

“We went through all that, and nothing has changed.”

That view keeps popping up among the myriad analyses of the interesting, and frequently annoying, election campaign just completed. The Geezer, months ago, predicted four more years of Washington gridlock should President Obama be reelected. I’ve changed my mind.

Yes, the arithmetic in the political landscape changed only slightly. Republicans lost some seats in the House (they may well regain them in mid-term elections, as often happens) but retained a majority. Democrats gained only a couple of seats in the Senate, keeping a majority, but falling well short of the 60 needed to be able to easily push legislation through that chamber.

However, the legislative power positions changed dramatically. There are reasons for confidence that some useful things will get done in the months ahead

Perhaps most important, the Republicans took a real shellacking in areas that bode ill for the future of the party. President Obama won handily among young women, and barring major changes in Republican approaches those voters are likely to be Democrats in the future. Hispanics turned out in large numbers. Just a few years back, 44 percent of them voted for George W. Bush. This time, 70 percent backed President Obama. The Democrat even was favored by Cuban-Americans, who previously were pretty solidly in the conservative camp.

Why the big shift in the Hispanic vote?  I became acquainted with many Hispanics in contacts with workers and contractors in 11 years of serving as a homeowner association accountant. We also had several Hispanic neighbors. With few exceptions, these folks were hard-working, religious, family-oriented, and quite conservative on social issues. They were as likely to vote for Republicans as Democrats, and some did in the recent election.

My Hispanic contacts also were proud people with a low tolerance for insults. Governor Romney should have realized that when he talked about “self-deportation.” Republicans should have been aware of it when they opposed the “Dream Act.” Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the American population. If the Republicans don’t clean up their act in relations with them, the party is doomed. Republican leaders know that.

So we will not see gridlock blocking reform of our antiquated immigration policies, something President Obama promised before his first term and was unable to deliver. Now it will happen, either in one big package or in pieces of new legislation.

There will be some form of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, although the Republicans will call it something else. It would not be surprising if Republicans introduce all or several reform bills. They need to claim credit for positive actions that might help them get back into the good graces of Hispanics.

Women gained representation in Congress. This development coupled with the clear message from female voters that they want to halt attempts to roll back women’s rights should put a stop to right-wing proposals on abortion and contraception, issues thought to have been settled long ago. Those issues have diverted Congress from tackling current problems.

Tea Party arch-conservatives lost ground and influence in this election. The most extreme of them (think Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock) failed to win seats Republicans normally would win.

President Obama gained power well beyond what the arithmetic shows. After his first election he decided to use Democratic Party majorities in Congress to win passage of the Affordable Care Act. He spent a lot of political capital. That almost cost him reelection, as the adverse reaction obviously was greater than he expected. All that is behind him now.

Now the candidate who vowed to dismantle Obamacare “on my first day in office” has been soundly defeated. Romney and other Republicans admitted along the way that Obamacare includes provisions they support. It also has some problems that need fixing. We can expect compromise here. Obamacare will stay, and the parties will work together to repair flaws in it.

Of course, the crisis of the moment is the possibility the nation will “fall over the fiscal cliff” at the end of next month as Congress and the President refuse to work out a new compromise to curtail the federal deficit. That is very unlikely to happen. President Obama phoned House Speaker John Boehner soon after the election ended. They are said to have agreed to be cautious about public pronouncements that would make fiscal negotiations very difficult. The rhetoric has been rather mild.

One action may simply be a postponement of legislation until the new Congress convenes in January. Worry warts might find that frightening.  It would be a positive act. The longer we wait for financial actions that reduce government spending the more time the economy has to continue recovering. The federal budget is not like a household budget. Governments should cut spending when times are good, not when they’re tough.

Pre- and post-election polls showed who has the power. The American public gives Congress a scant 10 percent approval rating. President Obama won about 53 percent of the popular vote and a landslide in the electoral count that really matters. If the Republican-controlled House fails to propose or approve a way to step back from the “cliff,” the blame will fall squarely on them.

Another reason for optimism about dealing with the deficit is that the heavy work has been done. President Obama and Congressman Boehner were close to a deal 18 months ago. It was said to have been killed because of Tea Party opposition that Boehner could not overcome.  Now the Tea Party types are much less likely to block constructive action.

Considerable analysis of alternatives preceded the Obama-Boehner deal that almost became reality. Many ideas came from the Simpson-Bowles Commission, a nonpartisan group whose leaders offered many sound proposals, including tax increases as well as spending cuts. Lots of data are already assembled to guide budget and deficit decisions.

He now has the power to move ahead
In his first term, President Obama had to move with caution after his party lost big in the mid-term elections. The economy, which is well on the way to righting itself as economies do when they emerge from down cycles, was very slow to gain ground. Mr. Obama could ill-afford any rash actions that would end his days in office.

Some say the President now must take some sort of heroic action to “create his legacy” or “become a significant president.”  Nonsense. Mr. Obama already is assured of an important place in the annals of history.

Firsts are the stuff of historic presidencies. Mr. Obama, of course, is the first African-American president. He will be credited with being the first president to end two wars. And, he succeeded in moving the nation forward on the path to universal health care, something Democratic Party leaders have tried and failed to do for more than 80 years.

President Obama by nature seeks compromise with his political opponents, but he now can be very selective about making concessions to the Republicans in Congress. All he really has to do is say “Yes” or “No.” He’s in the catbird seat.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Serving (Some) Veterans

Yesterday I received what has become an annual gift in recognition of my two years of honorable service in the U.S. Army. A few days earlier I received my annual insult from the American Legion.

The gift was a delicious free meal at Applebee’s. The place was packed with veterans and their families.  Every vet who entered was presented with a nifty little red, white, and blue lapel button. The air was filled with “thank you for your service” wishes courtesy of the restaurant staff. 

Veterans young and old were having a ball. Some wore caps identifying their service. Not surprisingly, a few brought along a little barracks humor. We overheard one old geezer greeting another with, “Tom, I didn’t know you were in World War II.”

“I sure was,” Tom said. “And I even was on our side.”

On Tuesday, a thick packet of information, including a dozen free address labels, arrived from American Legion headquarters. The package also had a temporary membership card, a “certificate of nomination,” and a personalized letter. The letter congratulated me for doing military duty and said if I “qualified” I could become a member of the organization and receive numerous services.

To “qualify” all I had to do was certify that one day of my two years in the Army fell within certain time periods dating back to April 6, 1917. I already knew there would be no fit.  My two years of active duty don’t count, because the U.S. theoretically was not at war. Some of the guys from my unit who were sent to Viet Nam as “advisors” probably would be amused, or perhaps enraged, to learn that.

Once again, the Legion had the audacity to remind thousands of us “peacetime soldiers” that we are considered second-class vets. (for some details about this outrage, click on “Upon Further Review” under Most Popular Posts in the right-hand column on this page.)

Applebee’s considers every honorably discharged veteran a first-class vet. They serve all of us on Veterans Day. May the restaurant chain grow and prosper.

May the American Legion leaders, who sign their letters “serving veterans,” march straight to . . . .

Thursday, November 08, 2012

My Election Forecast--Right and Wrong

Early this year (see Jan. 11 post, “A Fearless Forecast”) the Geezer went out on the proverbial election forecasting limb. The limb remains intact, but it’s a little shaky.

I said after Mitt Romney’s early primary win in New Hampshire he would be the Republican candidate for president. Right.

I said President Barack Obama would win a close election. Right, but it wasn’t as close as I thought it would be.

I said Democrats would hold a majority in the Senate and fail to win enough seats to wrest House control from the Republicans. Right.

Because Libertarian Ron Paul finished second in New Hampshire with a hefty 22.8 percent of the Republican vote, I predicted he would run a strong race as a third party candidate. I said the Libertarian presence would take enough votes away from Governor Romney to reelect President Obama. Wrong.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson picked up the Libertarian banner when Paul declined to run. Although Johnson became the first Libertarian to get more than a million votes in a presidential election, they were fairly well spread out across the country and did not hand President Obama any states. Florida, where Libertarian views are strong in a few counties, may prove the exception when all votes are counted there. However, Florida became a nonfactor when President Obama clearly won a return to office well before Sunshine State votes mattered.

I made a major miscalculation thinking the election would be closer. I erred in assuming that Mr. Obama’s 2008 victory quite possibly was a one-time event motivated by strong demands for change from large segments of the public disenchanted with President George W. Bush and his policies. Results in 2012 show 2008 was no fluke. They proved that the white male establishment no longer will be dominant in American politics.

The 2008 election signaled a trend; it was not an outlier in the world of political statistics.

(I also said in January, “We will be in for another four years of frustrating stalemate in Washington.” That remains a popular viewpoint following this week’s election. However, I’ve come to believe we self-appointed seers are dead wrong about that. A post on the topic will be coming soon.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

At the Finish, Wonderful Words

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama gave beautiful speeches when it was all over—about the strengths of this nation and how we could work together for a brighter future.  It’s too bad they came at the end instead of throughout the campaign.

Let us hope those who were elected to serve us heard those messages.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A Worthwhile Tradition

Back in the late 1950s when the geezer edited the De Pere Journal-Democrat, a weekly paper in a small city near Green Bay, patriotism ran rampant at election time. De Pere billed itself as “The All-American City.”  The self-conferred title resulted from the amazing rate of voting by citizens.

In the election year I lived in De Pere, 98 percent of the eligible voters in the population of about 9,000 cast a ballot.

I don’t recall getting an “I voted” sticker at the polling place, but they weren’t needed. People, some perfect strangers, asked me throughout the day whether I had voted.  A standard comment was, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” Voting simply was something everyone did in De Pere. There was no tolerance for those who skipped their civic duty.

At Journal Publishing, the owner toured the printing plant early in the day and told every employee to make sure to take the time off needed to go and cast a vote. Other business owners throughout the city were known to do that.

I don’t know if De Pere has maintained the “All-American City” tradition. I hope so. I do know only about half of the eligible voters in the U.S. are going to bother to cast a vote in our current very important presidential election.

Perhaps some friendly competition among cities to see which one can claim the voting title might do all of us a favor.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Time to Make the Wise Choice

Haven't decided yet?
If you haven't been persuaded by logic or common sense that Barack Obama is the best person to lead us forward out of the mess he inherited, it's time for you to follow the ancient wisdom:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Should I Believe?

Should I believe my ears or my eyes?

When I began the journey home from my favorite supermarket, a radio ad told me I should not vote for Barack Obama because “he spent almost a trillion dollars in stimulus funds that didn’t create a single job.”

Minutes later I negotiated my way through a construction project that began this spring in Plainwell, Michigan. Most of the work will be paid for with federal economic stimulus funds.

The Plainwell project replaces a bridge that was at the top of Michigan’s unsafe structures list, improves motorist and pedestrian safety on and near an important highway interchange, and eliminates most of a major bottleneck on a busy state highway. The project has been planned for a decade, but state government alone didn't have the funds to get the work done.

Private contractors will have been paid nearly $11 million when the work is completed next year. The project would not have happened now or in the foreseeable future without stimulus funding.

As I drove through the work site I saw numerous young men and women clearing the way for giant construction equipment and performing other tasks.  Older workers were driving trucks and operating backhoes and asphalt-laying machines.  Obviously, many jobs were created or saved by the project.

In this case, I’ll believe my eyes.

Last night, Mitt Romney told us for the umpteenth time that government does not create jobs. Oh, well.

Friday, October 19, 2012

In Grateful Memory

Jenna G. Beno (U.S. Army), 24, Clarkston, Michigan. Died Oct. 15, 2012 of injuries suffered when her unit was deployed to Iraq in August 2009.


Unfortunately, the Geezer doesn’t have the time or resources to honor all Americans and  NATO allies who gave their lives in Iraq or are dying daily in Afghanistan, so memorials are limited to service members from my home state of Michigan. You can find a record of all American deaths at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Just the Facts, Please

A few months ago we’d hardly heard of them, and now just about everybody with a microphone or keyboard seems to have become a “fact checker.”  I like the idea of checking on the tales politicians tell, but there are pitfalls. 

Fact checkers obviously need a little time to do their work well. Quick shots from the hip can be dead wrong.  One such caused me to open my glazed eyes wide just after last night’s Obama-Romney debate ended. An ABC-TV fact checker said Romney was right and Obama was wrong in a heated exchange about oil and gas production from public lands.

I know a thing or two about that after 30 years of living in the Intermountain West. Most of that time, I worked for the U.S. Forest Service, which manages 31 million acres of public land in the region. Questions about oil and gas permits, operations, and production abounded, and I often had do some research to answer them.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages far more acres of public land than does the Forest Service, and it also keeps records of permits and oil and gas production on all federal lands plus off-shore drilling areas. Careful fact checkers went to BLM records to make their judgments the day after the debates. They reached a different conclusion than the ABC guy who gave his “expert” analysis minutes after the debate ended.

Romney said oil production was down 14 percent each year (of Obama’s years in office) and gas production was down 9 percent. He repeated that assertion twice.  He said that was because “the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal land and in federal water.”

Obama said production on federal public lands is up, and what Romney said “is just not true.”

The ABC fact checker said Romney was correct because leases issued dropped from 3,499 in fiscal year 2008 to 2,188 in fiscal year 2011, nearly the 50 percent decline he claimed. However, had the checker looked carefully at BLM records and been knowledgeable about federal operations, he would have known that government fiscal years start on Oct. 1. So the decline in permit approvals started during the Bush administration.

An alert newsman also should have noticed a large drop in 2010. That’s because Obama ordered a moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico so all involved could get their acts together following the worst oil spill in the history of drilling in federal areas. Since then, permit approvals have been increasing gradually, a fact Obama mentioned during the discussion.

Gas production is down on federal lands as Romney said, but it is not because of a lack of permits. New technology, particularly in controversial “fracking” operations, has increased gas production immensely across much of the U.S.

Extraction companies will go where the low-hanging fruit is.  That usually is on private or state lands where, in most cases, environmental regulations are less stringent than on the federal lands. Also, drilling new gas wells generally is easier and thus less costly on eastern lands than in rugged western terrain. Existing access roads also invite drillers to lands other than the often sparsely roaded western public land areas.

What about the charge that oil production on public lands has declined 14 percent in each of the last 4 years? BLM records show the truth is it has increased 16.6 percent during Obama’s time in office. It is interesting to note that during the last 4 years of George Bush’s tenure as President, oil production decreased by 16.8 percent on federal lands.

Romney deserves a very long nose on this one. The ABC fact checker deserves a zero performance rating.

Monday, October 15, 2012

They Rallied Round My Flag

Sports commentators advanced all the usual theories as to why my moribund Green Bay Packers rose up last night to put a pretty good thumping on the previously unbeaten Houston Texans.  The writers and announcers cited better blocking, play calling, pass patterns, and quarterback decisions as reasons for the Packers’ victory.

Proudly it does wave, at least for now.
Nonsense. None of those things had much to do with the win. It was all about my flag.

For the past 10 years, I’ve hoisted a Packers flag after every win. It’s one of several juvenile things I do just because they’re fun. Usually,  the flag stays up until Thursday and then is taken in as we await results of the next contest. Last year, the Pack won so many games in a row I just got tired of the routine and left it up for a month or so.

Late this summer, as part of our never-ending home-improvement project, a painter removed the flag holder beside our garage door so he could refurbish the door frame. He forgot to put it back until just now.

Of course, the absence of my banner struck a serious blow to team morale.  The Packers started the season with only one decent performance before last night.

Now the flag flies again, at least until Thursday. Don’t count our guys out just yet. Incidentally, that big G stands for god—he’s our quarterback.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Biden Lands a Solid Counter-Punch

We expected a battle with the gloves off last night as Vice President Joe Biden and challenger Paul Ryan debated, and we got one.

Biden was expected to come out swinging hard after President Barack Obama appeared listless in his first debate with Mitt Romney. Biden did just that. Ryan is trying to establish himself as a strong voice for conservatives, and he banged away at the Obama record trying to highlight what right-wingers consider to be faults in administration policy

I had never heard either man give a speech or participate in a debate, although both had plenty of experience. Biden has been an elected official for most of his life. Ryan has served in Congress for 14 years. Both men have run for election many times, presenting their views and arguing with opponents. Despite their similar backgrounds as professional politicians, they came across as two different people last night.

Biden reminded me of a neighbor citing his experiences as he passionately argued an important issue across your kitchen table over coffee or a beer. Ryan looked like a newly minted MBA giving a lecture about theories he learned from a maverick professor.

When Biden or moderator Martha Raddatz asked Ryan to provide specific actions he and Ronmey would take to further their “five point plan,” the Congressman had none to offer. Biden defended Obama’s actions by describing why the decisions were made, often noting he was present when policy was formulated.

Raddatz, in contrast to the inept Jim Lehrer who moderated the Obama-Romney debate, was crisply professional. She kept control even when Biden got over-enthusiastic and interrupted Ryan, laughed at what the challenger said, or made unnecessary comments about time allotments.

Raddatz asked some tough questions, but they were ones we viewers wanted answered—abortion (Biden thought it was a matter between a women and her doctor; Ryan believes it never should be condoned), how they viewed their Catholic religion (both said it is important in their lives; Biden said he did not believe in foisting his religion on others), and Medicare and Social Security (Biden said neither he nor Obama would support any form of privatization; Ryan favored plans that include privatization).

I thought Biden delivered the sharper blows, citing more facts and giving logical reasons for administration policies. Ryan mostly dealt in generalities, and when asked for specifics he often was unable to produce any.

Raddatz at the end did not challenge viewers with the most important question--one none of us likes to confront. If something happened to the President, which one of these guys would you want leading the nation?

Based on what I saw last night, I’d go with the more experienced and grounded Biden, who it appeared could best be depended on to act responsibly on the world stage and pursue policies at home favoring the majority of Americans.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two Football Fortunes in Jeopardy

Unforeseen circumstances—a key injury, a bad official’s call, a penalty at a inopportune moment—often decide games in the National Football League. The college draft system  and  revenue sharing agreements tend to keep rosters filled with players of about equal ability.

Circumstances also can affect player compensation. Two intriguing pay situations currently involve underemployed performers. One is a star member of the Green Bay Packers; the other is a former Packers second-stringer.

The Packers are paying wide receiver Greg Jennings about $7 million this season for his work. Unfortunately, Jennings hasn’t been working very much. He was on the sidelines recovering from a concussion much of the time teammates prepared for the season. In the first regular game, Jennings suffered a groin injury.  He hasn’t played much since, and a fourth of the season is history.

Many observers think Jennings is the best of a very talented group of Packers receivers. So what’s the problem? Won’t they just wait until he gets healthy, rejoice when he’s back on the field, and be happy to pay him another $7 or so for a full season of activity next year?  The problem is Jennings is in the last year of his contract.  He’ll be a free agent next year.

Greg Jennings may take a hit in the wallet next year
The circumstances are that the Packers have been busy signing three of their other star players to hefty multi-year contracts. There probably won’t be enough spare cash available to resign Jennings. As a star free agent, he normally would sign with another team, probably with a long-term deal paying him even more that his current $7 million a year. His recent injuries, however, make the situation abnormal. They devalue his worth on the open market.

It’s unlikely Jennings will be able to amass impressive statistics this year playing only a partial schedule. NFL teams worry about committing a lot of money to players who seem to be injury prone. Jennings’ recent history may place him in that category.  These circumstances could cost Jennings millions of dollars in the future.

Matt Flynn probably has the best job in the league—at least at the moment. Flynn served at a Packers’ backup quarterback for four years starting in 2008. He played in only two complete regular season games during that time. But he made a huge impression in the last one, the final game of the 2011 season when the Packers rested their regular quarterback for the playoffs.  Flynn threw six touchdown passes against the Detroit Lions, and suddenly everyone decided he was a great quarterback. 

That incredible performance came at the end of his Green Bay contract, and made him a hot item as a free agent.  The Packers decided a backup quarterback was not worth big money, and reluctantly let Flynn go.  After negotiating with several teams, he signed a three-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks for $19.5 million including bonuses, and $10 million of that is guaranteed to be paid no matter what.

The “what” came along quite unexpectedly. Seattle drafted Russell Wilson, a University of Wisconsin quarterback, in the third round.  Wilson had performed brilliantly at Wisconsin, but was considered too short to have a good chance to do well in the NFL. He fooled everybody by beating Flynn out in training camp, and the ex-Packer once again is a backup unthreatened by huge charging linemen intent on crushing quarterbacks.

Flynn now draws his paychecks by taking only a few snaps in practices.  There he wears a red shirt to ensure that no one will put dents in his $10 million body. On game days, he safely walks the sideline with a clipboard and helps relay plays to Wilson. Flynn’s chances of grabbing another high-paying contract next time around are not looking good.

Both Jennings and Flynn are fine young men as far as I know, and I wish them well.  In fact, Jennings is a local hero.  He played college ball at Western Michigan University, has a foundation that funds worthwhile activities for youths in Kalamazoo, and is a family man who serves as a positive role model for kids who need one.

Nevertheless, I shed no tears for professional football players who face future cuts in compensation. As a group, they are some of the most overpaid of those who make up that privileged one percent Americans are becoming less and less enamored with.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Romney 31, Obama 10, Lehrer O

Those inclined to care deeply about politics can find all sorts of analyses of last night’s presidential election debate, so I won’t dwell on it other than to apply one of those dreaded sports analogies.

President Obama came out unprepared and overconfident, yet strangely subdued, and never recovered. Mitt Romney came out aggressively attacking the Obama record on the economy and never let up. Obama missed numerous opportunities to counter Romney’s statements and forcefully point out the challengers’ misuse of some important statistics and lack of realistic proposals.

The referee, Jim Lehrer, lost control of the game within seconds after it started.  He let Romney evade questions at will, allowed Obama to ramble on well over time limits, asked questions most of the audience couldn’t possibly understand, and finally sat quietly while both men talked over each other. The 78-year-old host of "PBS NewsHour" doesn’t need better preparation for future debates; he needs an immediate retirement from moderator duties.

It was a good showing for Romney and a bad outing for Obama with questionable calls throughout by Lehrer.