Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Keep Your Seats, Senators

Our pottymouth speaker speaks
John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, hit a new rhetorical low this week when he told Senators to “get off their ass” and produce legislation to avoid cutting some $85 billion from the remainder of this year’s federal expenditures. We presume the 100 Senators were not sitting on a donkey and also do not have a collective behind. However, let us hope no one awards Boehner an “F” for bad grammar.  He might use it with a few other letters to plummet deeper into the depths of coarse discourse, something he has done before.

Seldom does the geezer find common ground with the Tea Party crowd in Congress, but this time we are the strangest of bedfellows. The conservative Republicans in the House and I both want the Senators to keep their backsides firmly rooted in their chairs and do nothing. Letting “sequestration” take effect on Friday could be managed as a good step forward in what has become a tiresome, interminable budget battle in Washington.

The arch-conservative Representatives have been busily trying to convince us that serious sequestration consequences (they think cutting defense spending would be catastrophic) should be blamed on President Obama. It is true that the Administration conceived the sequestration plan. The Tea Partiers are correct about that. Their problem is that the American people don’t believe them. According to many polls, a majority will blame sequestration problems squarely on the Republicans.

Mr. Obama has been just as busily touring the country and issuing state-by-state assessments proclaiming that cutting up to 13 percent in defense spending and 9 percent in other discretionary spending areas will have horrific consequences. The centerpiece of the presidential arguments is that 750,000 jobs will disappear at a time when the economy is still struggling to right itself. That is a lot of hooey.

The cuts in defense can be achieved by temporarily reducing the number of hours civilian employees work this year. That will be unpleasant for the workers, of course, but their jobs would not be eliminated. Managers would have seven months to make useful economies and return the employees to full-time status.  That should not be difficult considering the bloated condition of defense accounts, which Congress has been inflating almost without question for more than a decade.

Cuts in the other programs would cause some undesirable job losses and reductions in essential services, but Social Security and Medicaid would not be affected at all and only modest cuts would occur in Medicare reimbursements to healthcare providers. In a few cases, states can be expected to cover some of the federal shortfall should sequestration take place.

The President should call Boehner’s bluff. Let the cuts take place, and then have separate pieces of legislation quickly introduced to restore funding to all accounts that truly need it, but do not include defense. Republicans and Democrats in both houses then could let all of us see their true colors as they vote each federal service up or down.

The federal debt and budget deficit are serious matters, all the foggy mutterings of economists about percentages of domestic product and similar theoretical guidelines aside. The simple truth is that far too much of our tax revenue is going to pay interest on a gigantic debt, and the situation is getting worse by the day. That interest money should be used for things that benefit our society, not just investors who find U.S. bonds the safest place in the world to park their excess cash. It is important to get on with spending reductions, appropriate tax increases, and closing tax loopholes to set our financial house in order.

Although Medicare spending is far from sustainable and needs to be dealt with, defense is the biggest money sink in the federal budget right now. In recent years, it has been impossible to rein in defense budgets. That well known “military-industrial complex” simply has too much power with Congress, and until now, has had full support from administrations.  Sequestration is the best opportunity that may come along in many years to take a real whack out of unnecessary defense spending.

Hold firm, Senators. Do what you do best—nothing. Sequestration can be turned into a positive thing for our nation. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Olympics Take Wrestling Down

The geezer and many other folks don’t find watching wrestling a rewarding pastime. Nevertheless, I think the recent decision by International Olympic Committee leaders to drop the sport before the 2020 Summer Games is bad business.

As a youth, I never felt the urge to grapple with other young males as many did. Perhaps that was because I was too heavy for my strength and stood little chance of winning in the higher weight classes against young men in better condition.

As a sports editor, I was irritated to say the least by constant demands from parents of wrestlers that about half of my pages should be devoted to the struggles of their darlings. My judgment to limit coverage of wrestling was confirmed by visits to a few high school matches. The small audiences appeared to consist mainly of parents and girl friends of the combatants.

As a parent, I was proud but not too excited when our son, without previous experience, defeated every other aspiring grappler in his weight class in a rather large high school. I was underwhelmed when he became a member of the school’s wrestling team, and parents of his teammates sold me a T-shirt inscribed with “Wrestling Fever: Catch It.”  All I caught was a little shuteye during evening matches that rated pretty high on the boredom scale.

IOC officials want to take wrestling down for the count, but many young people are taking to the sport (Denver Post photo)
The best guesses are that the IOC people are tossing wrestling off the agenda simply because it is not a whole lot of fun to watch. Television addicts have not been eager to dial in to see the Greco-Roman wrestling finals, or any other wrestling bouts. In this age of “follow the money,” killing Olympic wrestling probably is viewed as sound thinking by Olympics officials (read money grubbers). But for other reasons, it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

The spirit of the Olympic Games once was a wonderful thing. People whose livelihoods depended on other labors gathered periodically for peaceful contests to determine who was the strongest, the fastest runner, the highest jumper, and the athlete with the most endurance. They all were amateurs in the beginning. We haven’t seen many true amateurs in the Olympics for years, but the basic reasons why the athletes compete have endured, although it is difficult to relate such events as synchronized swimming to strength, speed, and endurance.

Wrestling isn’t pretty, but it is a true test of strength.  It was one of the sports in the ancient Olympics, and it has been included in every modern Olympics, except the 1900 games. Many nations send representatives: 71 were included in the 2012 games.

Although I doubt wrestling will ever become a true spectator sport, it is gaining, not losing, in popularity. A report from the UK says so many schoolboys are signing up for the sport that additional coaches are needed. In the U.S., more than a quarter million high school youths take to the mats. Asian nations long have sponsored programs, and wrestlers are heroes in several eastern European countries. Wrestling is the national sport in Iran, an indicator of its popularity in the Middle East.  Growing numbers of women are taking to the sport in many parts of the world.

IOC leaders have a chance to reconsider replacing wrestling with rock climbing or squash, two leading candidates for the honor. They should reconsider. The Olympics ought to remain athlete-friendly, not viewer-friendly, in at least a few areas.

I probably won’t watch Olympic wrestling, but it deserves to continue as a rigorous test of human strength. All those youngsters aspiring to grapple their way to Olympic Gold should not have the prize removed from their dreams by profit-motivated bureaucrats.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Was Lincoln an Earlier Day Lyndon?

Some might think it was good timing to delay seeing the film "Lincoln" until the week of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Actually, sheer inertia caused the geezer to wait so long. Once I dragged my body to the local theater and took in the show, the most surprising thing was I didn’t go sooner.

Did Honest Abe fib on occasion?
Another surprising thing was that the film drew large audiences during long runs.  The story line is not the kind of plot designed to lure hordes of paying customers by appealing to the baser human instincts, as Hollywood usually does. It was more of a serious history lesson than a light-weight entertainment.

For example, at one point Mr. Lincoln gave his cabinet a very basic and detailed lecture on the legal reasons the 13th Amendment to the Constitution needed to be passed by Congress, including the observation that his famous Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the southern states, may have been illegal. Usually, this sort of stuff would bore audiences into some serious nap time. I found it fascinating, and didn’t hear a single snore resonating in the theater.

In these days when the American public rates Congress just a notch or so above its fondness for root canals, there were striking similarities between the ways the film depicted Washington politicians and today’s perceptions of them. Descriptors such as “corrupt, deceitful, overly ambitions, and manipulative” might apply.

Lincoln certainly came across as a master manipulator, but he skillfully avoided the less complimentary labels by arranging for others to do the dirty work. In fact, the film showed him managing all sorts of unethical conduct without actually telling a blatant lie. “Honest Abe” at his best? It appeared that way even if the honesty was only skin deep at times.

Of course, we never can be sure about the historical accuracy of a Hollywood production. “Lincoln” shows President Lincoln cleverly and persistently overcoming dedicated opposition to ramrod passage of the 13th Amendment through the Senate. Wikipedia, a fairly reliable source, says Mr. Lincoln “did nothing to help push through Congress the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.”  One or the other is wrong.

Historically accurate or not, the film ultimately did a good job of re-posing an age-old philosophical question: Does the end justify the means?  In the end, Abraham Lincoln surely exerted a mighty influence on the abolition of slavery throughout the United States, no matter how he did it.

We are told that President Lyndon Johnson spent long hours in the 1960s on the phone twisting arms and making deals to gain passage of key civil rights legislation and “Great Society” social justice programs.  Might we assume some of his conduct could have been classified as “unethical”?

What do you think? Are questionable tactics OK if they help bring about great good?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Signs of Spring . . . Maybe

After more than a week of nearly continuous snow left a foot on the ground, it was cheering to learn Puxatawney Phil promised an early spring on Groundhog Day. What could be nicer?

Of course it immediately began to snow once again after Phil returned to his nest, while temperatures lurked below the freezing level. But two days after his appearance Phil seemed prophetic. We experienced an entire night without an additional layer of the white stuff.

Did Phil Get It Right?
Tuesday dawned not exactly bright, but at least clear. Things were looking up. Then beautiful wife Sandy spotted a sure sign of spring. She saw the first robin of the year enjoying the heated bird bath outside the door to our side deck. Feb. 5 was far and away the earliest date a red-breast has appeared since we moved here five years ago.

Unfortunately, a scant hour later I told Sandy I’d seen a raven perched atop our mailbox. “That’s a bad omen, isn’t it?” I asked.

“That’s a lot of nonsense,” our resident birder replied. “What you saw was a big fat crow. There aren’t any ravens around here.”

Just then snowflakes began to fall. Briefly, the temperature rose above freezing. Then it took a nosedive, converting the melted snow to a sheet of shiny new ice on our driveway. Another light dusting of snow topped off what would have been a very nice skating rink had we dialed up some appropriate waltz music.

Well? Could that have been a misplaced raven flapping its wings atop our mailbox?