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 www.freedomremembered.com.

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.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Niagara Falls--Pretty, Pricey, and Wonderful

We heard it time after time at Niagara Falls—“People who haven’t visited for 11 or 12 years say they hardly recognize the place.” 

The transformation on the Canadian side of falls occurred, we were told, when the government issued a permit for a casino. Upon learning that, major hotel chains bought up every available foot of property in the prime area for viewing both the Horseshoe and American Falls and launched a building boom. 

The concentration of high-rise hotels brought with it $30-a-night valet parking with few alternatives and outrageous pricing in hotel restaurants. There are ways to beat the system, but we were celebrating, not economizing, so we didn’t hold back very much.

Our anniversary observances usually include casino visits and the best steak dinner we can find. So we set aside some cash we could afford to lose if lady luck was unkind and planned to dine in our hotel’s upper level restaurant, which featured first-class views of the falls at night when lights provide a fantastic spectacle.

“The view is everything,” our trusted advisers said. We thus blew a good part of the budget on a “falls view” mini-suite at the Embassy Hilton. It was well worth it. One local resident said he and his wife once a year book a room at the Embassy and spend a day and a night doing nothing but looking out their window at the falls.

We intended to conserve some cash by visiting only two of the best attractions—a voyage on the “Maid of the Mist” and a trip through the tunnels that takes you behind the falls. Well, that’s what we intended.

What we did was sign up for a very expensive tour of the whole area that included our top-two attractions and just about everything else worth experiencing. That turned out to be a good decision.  We had a great tour guide who presented the history of the area in detail, emphasizing intriguing stories about the various daredevils who have walked high wires and performed other death-defying acts at the falls.

The morning view from our room.

You can get closer on an observation deck.

Or, you can walk through a tunnel behind the falls.

The Maid of the Mist can hold 600 people, but it looks pretty puny going past American Falls.
Whirlpool rapids are among the wildest and most dangerous in the world--we looked, but didn't boat there.

The floral clock is a place to make a wish. We did.

Just as our Maid of the Mist voyage was ending, the sun came out and a rainbow signaled the end of a terrific tour.

Our guide wasn’t exaggerating when he said his tour packed two days of activities into one. We topped off a great day with the most expensive restaurant meal we’ve ever eaten.  Beautiful wife Sandy said it also was the best. Our server rewarded our appreciation with a huge, delicious dessert in honor of our 51st year together.

We took one last look out of our hotel window.

We were 50 miles into our trip home when Sandy said, “It seems strange, but we have some money left.”

We were enjoying the falls and nearby attractions so much, we forgot to visit the casino!