Happy New Year Wisconsin!

At least that will be my hope as I sit in the Rose Bowl watching Wisconsin play Stanford next year, which is an example of how misleading words can be, as I have often discussed in this blog.  Next year is tomorrow.

English: Bucky Badger, mascot of the Universit...

English: Bucky Badger, mascot of the University of Wisconsin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had so many thoughts for what to write in my last post of 2012, too many of them actually.  And I can’t concentrate since  my mind is really focused on a Badger win on New Year’s Day.

For those who don’t know, I’m a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  And this will be the third straight year they play in the Rosebowl, the third straight year I will be there and hopefully not the third straight year they lose.  I am a big believer at the moment in the notion that the third time is the charm.

As of this writing there still seems a ray of hope for some kind of pre-fiscal clurb deal today, but if one does get done, its worth will likely be slight and all of the real fiscal issues will still sit there waiting to be solved.

So, I’m happy to take a wait and see attitude, especially since I need to get my things together to head up to Los Angeles to be with my red and white “peeps” , brewing a zone of energy that will lift  our valiant Badgers to victory tomorrow over a very good Stanford team.

While not quite as challenging as getting our Congress to function, I would see a Wisconsin victory as a good omen for 2013, likely to prompt a kinder, gentler America with a government that actually works.

All this a Badger victory might portend.

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Kabuki Dancing on the Edge of the Fiscal “Clurb” (Cliff or Curb)

Although President Obama is meeting with Congressional leaders this afternoon, it looks like no fiscal deal will get done before 2013.  If some stop gap measure is passed, it will suggest that both sides have been working more closely beneath the surface than it has  seemed.  It’s called a Kubuki dance.

Katsuo-uri((dance of)fish seller(kabuki dance))

Katsuo-uri((dance of)fish seller(kabuki dance)) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The nature of Kubuki political dances is there is more agreed upon than what meets the eye, posturing being a fundamental part of the dance.  The problem is that the posturing can run out of time, just as it did in the car chicken run to the cliff in the movie Rebel Without a Cause referred to in a previous post.   One of the drivers jumped but the other had his jacket caught on the door and could not jump.

John Boehner’s jacket seems caught on a Tea Party door.  And he can’t free himself.  He seems living a life of quiet desparation.  Why else would he come up with what he called a Plan B solution, of allowing only the tax rates of millionaires (literally) to go up while maintaining the cuts for others?

He could not even get his own caucus to support it.   Surely, he must have realized the Tea Party types would reject the proposal which ignored their mantra of “no new taxes”  and did not even have spending cuts attached.  So, Plan B went nowhere and only adds to  puzzlement at the process.   Most observers seem to think Boehner just made a clumsy move and tripped.  Could he have been more clever than that in a way yet to be revealed?  Did he want to show conclusively how his hands are tied?

On the administration side, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner sent a letter to Congress Wednesday that the federal debt ceiling would be reached this Monday.   As if they didn’t know.  This intensifies the scary image of a steep cliff only days away, which may be an Obama move to put more pressure on Republicans to make a deal on the debt ceiling now, so as to avoid making it another issue in two months.

That’s when the true debt ceiling will be reached after  Geithner has run out of a series of emergency steps – sort of like check kiting – to allow the government to keep paying its bills.   Obama wants a debt ceiling deal NOW, so he can’t be held hostage by Tea Party naysayers in another two months.

Boehner may have his jacket caught in the car door, forced to fall over the Clurb, but Obama seems willing to jump, believing the landing will be softer for the Democrats.   Polls indicate the Republicans are being blamed more for the impasse.  Also, after income tax rates  have gone up the Democrats can press to reduce them for most Americans forcing the Republicans to either go along with their proposals or finding themselves in the awkward position of resisting tax cuts.

A pre-2013 deal does not seem likely, but one  reached in two or three weeks seems more so, and it shouldn’t do too much harm as provisions can be made retroactive to January 1.   Helping that along will be  more nerves wracked  and louder citizen clammer aimed at Congress.  Consumer confidence is already down to the level of last August and who knows when the stock market will lose confidence that anything will get done?  Oh, and there is the world economy, by the way, in which we still remain the lead actor even when we aren’t playing our part well.

If a deal does get done in the next couple of days, my guess is it would…..oh, I don’t know.  I’ll just wait and see and hope that Obama and Boehner turn out to be great Kabuki dancers, that the stumbles and apparent head knocking were mostly just steps to increase the relief most of us will feel when they actually do come together publicly and take a bow.

Joe Scarborough, Newtown and the NRA

I am waiting for the public statement from the NRA in response to the

National_Rifle_Association

National_Rifle_Association (Photo credit: ChrisWaldeck)

Newtown murders.  According to Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe, so is the Republican Party.   Joe is the lone conservative show piece at MSNBC, usually surrounded by liberals each morning, including his C0-host Mika Brzezinski  in case you don’t know.   I have mixed feelings about his opinions, especially that time when he repeatedly said that “they hate us” apparently referring to Muslims worldwide.  I thought that was a bit simplistic.  I tape the show and often fast forward when Joe is talking.

But I give him credit for often criticizing the current Republican Party for fashioning “a brand” that is attracting fewer buyers every day.   Over the course of the election, his reaction to the Republican campaign was often a head scratching response to disarray:  “What are they doing?”

That is also his reaction to the Republican silence regarding the Newtown massacre.  He had invited a “Republican leader” to appear on his show, but that person declined.  He wanted to wait for the NRA announcement today, which says a lot about the weight the NRA carries within the party.

Joe described  well the fundamental resistance by NRA zealots to control semi-automatics and large ammunition clips, the usually unstated fear that eventually the federal government will become so oppressive that armed rebellion will become necessary and they want to be armed and ready.

As Scarborough put it:  The Republicans “are afraid of a small fragment of NRA members who believe the federal government is coming to kick down their doors, kill them and seize their property.”   It is important to keep that in mind when considering this issue.  That attitude cannot be reasoned with, especially because it often remains unstated.

That is the hard core nub of resistance to gun control, but there are  lighter layers of resistance not so politically extreme but still strong.  Many NRA members see the matter as a slippery slope that will lead to an ever increasing limitation on gun rights.  For those wanting to change gun laws, I think it useful to understand the somewhat varied expressions of resistance by gun advocates.

Below are two stories by Washington Post reporters that help illuminate the issue from the perspective of various “gun lovers”.  Not surprisingly, gun sales are booming right now, given gun owner fears of future restrictions.   This report stems from interviews at a gun dealership in North Carolina.  And this report resulted from  a visit to the NRA Museum in Virginia.

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Since writing the above I have watched the statement made by Wayne Lapierre of the NRA.  If you have any sense of the NRA, it would be easy to imagine what he proposed.  Referring to Newtown, he said that no one has raised the most important question of all:   How do we protect our children today And his impassioned answer was to put an armed security guard in every school in America as soon as possible while also taking to task the violent nature of our movie and video game culture.   That was basically it, except for a few protesters who made themselves heard and seen here and there.

He did not take questions by reporters, but will be on Meet the Press with David Gregory this Sunday and he said next week NRA representatives will be available to comment on his proposal and answer questions.

I will wait to comment as well as I want to think about the issue more and read reactions from others.   By the way,  I will not post this Tuesday, as it is Christmas, but will return next Friday.  

Devastated in Newtown, Connecticut

You drop off your six or seven year old child at school, perhaps talking about the Christmas vacation about to begin.  Maybe some seasonal activity you like doing together, like picking a tree.  You go to work or return home to go about your daily routines.    And then, some time later your every-day becomes the day your life was shattered.  You hear news you can’t believe.   Someone has gone to your elementary school and shot children…    Frantically you ask, to yourself if no one else:   Where is my child?  Is she safe?  Oh, my God, make him safe!

Now, days later, you know your child is gone, but you can’t believe it.    Nineteen other children and six adults who did their best to protect them are also gone.  Christmas now means pain and anguish and it will never be the same.  What will?  What can be?

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am trying to imagine the unthinkable nature of this attack to the families who lost cherished ones in this most unpredictable way.  Newtown, Connecticut is a picture post card New England town, or was.  It is the “last place in America” where one would suspect such a tragedy to occur, especially to six and seven year olds.

It is those children that make all the difference here.  Not that it should be that way, but past mass slaughters have not prompted me to imagine the loss felt by parents and spouses and friends in the way this one has.

In July I wrote a post about the deranged shooter in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  I agreed with NY Times columnist David Brooks that these killers are uniquely deranged and “if they cannot find an easy way to get a new gun, they’ll surely find a way to get one of the 200 million guns that already exist in this country. Or they’ll use a bomb or find another way.”

Also, I noted the trend was towards less gun control not more, especially in Colorado.    And I suggested that whatever lip service Barack Obama might give to gun control, little would happen because he would have bigger fish to fry in his second term.

This elementary school massacre changes everything.  The slaughter of six and seven year old children, the most innocent of the innocent, has struck a deeper chord than the unfortunate parade of other mass murders.   This now is a nation changed, so some change regarding gun laws will come. Perhaps changes in our violent movie and video game culture as well.   And our approach to mental health and potential violence, too.

The discussion has already begun with unusual earnestness and we all know there are no simple answers.   And, no, we cannot stop every insanely angry individual from diabolical acts,  but we should be able to make it harder, much, much harder than it is today for that destiny to be fulfilled.

How is Christmas Like the Presidential Election?

Black Friday(Mansfield)

Black Friday(Mansfield) (Photo credit: George Artwood)

ANSWER:  Each is supposed to be about one thing, but is actually about something else.

Take the recent election.  Given the huge problems we face with a weak economy and a rapidly growing, and already huge public debt, one might think that picking the President to lead us would relate closely to those issues.  But that would be wrong.  Very wrong.

It wasn’t the big issues that counted, but whom each of us disliked less.    Despite a steady smear job of Obama throughout his first term, along with a dragging economy that he was of course blamed for (the standard talking point  being “the economy was bad when he took over, but he made it worse”), in the end more of us apparently disliked Mitt Romney even more.  Of course, Democrat negative advertising helped a lot in that regard, but nothing helped more, in my opinion, than that one secret video revealing Romney’s vision of America, or at least the 47% of it, of us, as essentially people who feel entitled to mooch.

In my previous post I referred to a prize fight being ended by one punch.  This was metaphorically true of Romney as well, though ironically, he hit himself in the face.

My point is that neither Obama nor Romney said much that revealed how either was going to come to terms with our domestic problems and were sufficiently vague about our complex foreign issues to be indistinguishable.   On issues that really count, politicians believe less is more.   The less you say, the more safe you are from attack.   That’s why Obama and Boehner’s fiscal talks  are totally private right now.  If they come up with something, they want to announce it together so the blame – which surely will come – can be shared.

In short, the big issues which the pundits babbled about ad nauseum for months were largely divorced from the reality of political selection, which for many boiled down to:   I don’t like this guy, but I dislike the other guy more.   Sorry my more liberal friends, but being voted the somewhat more likeable man is not much of a mandate (*1).

Now take Christmas.  On the surface Christmas is about the miracle of Christ’s birth, the spirit of giving, the importance of family ties, stuff like that.    Its real significance, however, is that our economy is 70% consumer driven and at this time of the year there are no speed limits.  Many stores make their entire annual profit right now.   Black Friday seeped into Thursday evening this year and mark my words, give it another twenty years, and it will kick off on Halloween (Perhaps called:  Orange and Black Friday).

O. K.  O. K.   I realize some of you really love this season, probably because you are good at focusing upon just what you like about it and not what you don’t, so  I’ll keep my Grinch-like self to a minimum.

And I am happy if you’ve been maxing out your credit cards of late, even if not specifically on my behalf.  Your spending pumps up our economy, and I thank you for it.  I really do.  If all of you were as frugal as I am (some, lacking in Christmas cheer might say “cheap”), we would not be tap dancing around a recession, but in a deep depression that would be insurmountable.  I’m not ungrateful.

It is just that when I hear, as I did yesterday morning, a cable pundit pointing out how all this fiscal cliff uncertainty is cutting down our Christmas consumption, and that’s the last thing we need going into the new year, and that horror of horrors, Walmart moms, reportedly anxious about the fiscal cliff, are spending 15%  less this year, well….. I feel my failure to spend is positively unpatriotic.

Last year as I was driving home one evening a female disc jockey seemed to sum it all up.  After playing some porn pop song, she said:  “Now I’ll  play some Christmas carols to put you in the shopping spirit.”

Remember when it used to be called the Christmas spirit?

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(*1)  In a previous post I wrote about a pre-election poll I conducted consisting of one bartender who was undecided about his presidential vote.   Later I learned he left the presidential box blank on his ballot, leading me to conclude he disliked both candidates enough to pick neither.

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A Real Political Debate is as Rare as a Great Prize Fight

The Pacquiao-Marquéz rivalry known for its lac...

The Pacquiao-Marquéz rivalry known for its lack of a definitive triumph suddenly had the most definitive ending of them all. (Photo credit: Erolle)

Barack Obama and John Boehner met two days ago and their aides are remaining mum, other than rumors that Obama made a proposal Sunday and Boehner just made a counter proposal today.    I can’t imagine much of a real deal taking place at this time, though perhaps a small agreement can come about while  kicking the rest of the cans down the road months into 2013, per usual.   We can only wait and see.

In the meantime, anyone like to watch prize fighting? I love a great fight and the Pacquiao-Marquez one Saturday night was great, a battle between two skilled warriors dramatically ended by one Marquez punch in the 6th round (*1).   Great fights are rare, but so is real political debate these days.   Mostly we have two sides flailing their talking points about, often with feckless moderators allowing lies and lesser truth misdemeanors  to score hits below the belt.

An exception would be the Jon Stewart interview of Governor Chris Christie a few days ago.   Stewart has been called the Walter Chronkite of our time, which I think is fitting in that our political scene has literally become  a joke over the past 30 years or so,  and parody is the best way to illuminate its phoniness.  Christie, on the other hand, has been called a rarity by newsman Bob Sheaffer:  “A politician who actually answers questions.”   In short, two men worth listening to when they tangle.

While no knock out punches were thrown, there was lots of sparring in what was a real debate.   Some of that debate was edited to fit the show, but you can see it in its entirety at the link shown at the bottom of this post.

There were three segments, like rounds, totaling about 26  minutes, but you can watch each separately if you don’t have the time or inclination to watch them all at once.  In the first round there were mostly love pats, two Jersey boys having some fun and building rapport, including Christi proudly telling of a hug he recently got from Bruce Springsteen.

Things got serious in the second round, though, as Stewart kept punching away at the Republican tendency to see things others need as “mooching” entitlements.   He said more than once that cancer for someone who lacks health insurance is a personal example of what a hurricane is to many, a tragedy as in New Jersey, stating that Republicans can see the need of relief for a whole region in an emergency but not the calamity of an individual who can’t afford health insurance.   Christie parried those blows and got in a few shots of his own in a debate that helped illuminate the issues involved.

In the third round, there was less punching and more badinage once again with the two agreeing on one thing in particular:  Real political debate seldom breaks out anymore.

Well, it broke out here, which is why I recommend your taking a glance via this  Huffington Post ink.

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(*1)  A related political tidbit:  Mitt and Ann Romney had seats ringside compliments of the chair of the Nevada State Boxing commission.  I didn’t know he liked boxing, but there’s a lot I don’t know about him because he has wanted it that way.  I’m waiting for someone to shed light on the matter with a book possibly titled:  Who was Mitt Romney?

Can Barack and John Work Something Out?

Official photographic portrait of US President...

(Wikipedia)

In my previous post I gave  columnist David Brooks some credit for coming up with a vision (or fantasy) of the two parties actually working together to not only survive the fiscal bumpy slope, i. e. cliff,  but to actually begin to fix our entrenched fiscal problems.   For his efforts he has been made a pin cushion, mostly by critics on the left.

These critics, brimming with their belief in an Obama mandate, have shredded Brooks’ ideas for one reason or another.   Hey, it was only one column exploring the possibility of the Republicans coming to the table and saying something more than “no”.  Those on the left, retract your fangs, please!   When someone comes to you wishing to talk peace and carrying a white flag, you don’t shoot him.

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

(Wikipedia)

Generally speaking, the Republicans are in some disarray, trying to come to grips with their election losses,  while the Democrats feel they hold the high cards, so they are not inclined to give an inch to any Republican attempt to make peace.   Barack Obama has demonstrated that attitude knowing that if the Bush tax breaks expire, the Democrats will then be able to propose new legislation to bring back the tax cuts for those below $250,000 (or maybe a bit higher).  That would leave the Republicans in the awkward position of appearing to oppose tax cuts.  Also, polls suggest that Republicans will receive more of the blame for the consequences of not making some sort of deal.

The  amount of  money going in and out of Washington is not going to suddenly change  January 1, and the Obama team can soften the immediate effects of the so-called cliff, as mentioned in my previous post.   As such, the Democrats are feeling their oats, believing they can have their way with Republicans on this issue. The Obama team seems willing to head down a bumpy 2013 slope if the Republicans won’t deal.

Given the Tea Party’s ability in the past to throw a monkey wrench into most compromises between the parties, perhaps no deal can be made any time soon, but some interesting news broke yesterday in an article in the NY Times  “At House Speaker John A. Boehner’s request, Senate leaders and Representative Nancy Pelosi have been excluded from talks to avert a fiscal crisis, leaving it to Mr. Boehner and President Obama alone to find a deal, Congressional aides say.”

What’s that song?  Just the two of us….   Boehner’s request suggests to me that negotiating progress has been made behind the scenes AND that both gentlemen believe they have some negotiating room, i.e. that each can make some concessions and still sell the deal to their parties.   Supporting this line of thought was the appearance of numerous pundits of  liberal political opinion at the White House recently, such as many of the hosts at MSNBC.   I infer this to mean Obama was looking for support for some concessions.  Meanwhile  Tea Party types have complained that Boehner is asserting more control over them by removing some from key committee assignments, i. e. he has laid the groundwork for less interference by them.

Boehner hasn’t shown suicidal tendencies as far as I know, so in requesting this meeting, he must feel fairly confident they can come up with something he can live with, which means he can get passed in the House.

When the two meet, I’d love to be a fly on the wall.