Ukraine and March Madness: What’s the Connection?

The obvious answer is that they both contain elements of madness.  The two together have made up much of my mental life of late, but since the Ukraine problem is so scary while the basketball tournament is so much fun (especially if you are still alive in a pool like me) I’ve been much more inclined to watch basketball than to write about Ukraine.  Wow!  So many close games going right down to the wire and beyond.

It is human nature as depicted in a cartoon I ran across years ago.  It shows a guy  sitting in his easy chair reading a newspaper with the front page headline:  World War III declared!  Behind him his wife is asking:  “Enough of that. Anything about Brad and Jen?”   (I said it was several years ago).

English: (Green) Ukraine. (Grey) Europe. (Ligh...

English: (Green) Ukraine. (Grey) Europe. (Light-grey) The surrounding region.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ukraine situation is scary because tensions are so high, who knows what unintended consequences they might trigger?

Like many I imagine, I am particularly concerned with what further incursions besides Crimea Putin and Co. might make in Ukraine near Russian borders under the guise of protecting Russian ethnics.

There is very little we could do about that immediately while Ukraine’s own national pride would likely prompt violent reactions there, which while understandable could lead to who knows what?

For various reasons I won’t get into now, I don’t think Putin sees going beyond Crimea as being in his own best interests and that is what seems to count most.    Since I can do nothing about Ukraine in any event, I will tend to my own best interests right now.   And they include Louisville continuing to win right through the national title game  a week from Monday.   While I can’t prove it, I think my focused willing them to win helped in their first two disturbingly close victories and they figure to need my full attention going forward this Friday.

Meanwhile regarding Ukraine,  of the numerous editorials and articles I have read over the past couple of weeks, a very recent piece in the New York Times by Michael A. McFaul seems to provide the most illuminating thumb nail sketch of the situation, including its historical context.

A former ambassador to the Russian Federation while part of the Obama administration, McFaul provides a good overview of the Ukraine issue linked here.   The spirit of the editorial is nuanced and cautious, a soberness that befits the situation.

Our madness should be restricted to the tournament that resumes tomorrow.

Going Mad! Be Back April 9

Congress take its Easter/Passover two week recess next week and President Obama has gone to the mid-east to shore up our relations there, so this seems a good time for us to take a break from thinking about the torturous budget SNAFU, too.    Congress comes back April 8,  which just happens to be the final game day of March Madness, so the following day seems a good time to post again.

Unlike Congress, the NCAA basketball version of March Madness has a plan in place to get something accomplished, namely decide a national basketball champion.

Warmup before the 2006 NCAA Men's Division I B...

Warmup before the 2006 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament National Championship Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The time off will allow me to clean up that red row of Page  categories across the top, which seemed a good idea at first but I haven’t had the time to build them up as sources of information, so they have been neglected for months.  I’m not sure what I will put up there instead, but will go with the notion less is more.

Another thing I will work on some is my attitude.   I am a class half empty kind of guy and dwelling on our federal fiscal follies has drained the glass further.

When I was in my 20s – those  olden times when people still pecked on clunky typewriters, actually received letters and not all bills and junk mail, and spoke into phones attached to a wall – I saw a quote which I wish I still had.   It was from one of those wise ancient ancients and it went something like this:   Do not  dwell on the worries of the world.  The world is not worried about you.   Shrink the world to suit your daily life and you will be happy.

This was succinctly summed up more recently by another philosopher:  “Don’t worry be happy.”   That’s easier said then done, but below is a TED talk by Shawn Achor that might help.   A student of the  “science of happiness,” he wittily asserts that the problem is we have this pursuit of happiness thing backwards.   We tend to think success brings happiness, while it is actually the reverse.  Happiness brings success.

So, give him a gander when you have about 18 minutes for a few chuckles and some thought provoking.  (Those signed up to be emailed posts  may need to go to the web site to see the video.  Click the red and white symbol in the top left corner of the emailed post).

See ya two weeks from this coming Tuesday.

MARCH MADNESS: The Sequester and College Basketball

Let’s look at next month’s Calendar.

March 1st – this Friday: I can find no indication that some sort of deal will be reached by Friday , so the “sequester” figures to go into effect, which means the government will cut about $85 billion between now and Sept. 30, about half from defense and half from other discretionary programs.  This means that roughly 7% of these two areas (by my quick calculation) is projected to be cut over the next few months, with cuts ranging from about 5 to 9%.

Those would be substantial cuts, and the Obama administration, wanting to put pressure on the Republicans, has been playing that up with details of what will be cut and the public pain it might cause, like long lines at the airport.  But the question is how and when will these cuts take place.  Some might not take place at all and others be quickly reversed.  For starters by Sept 30, “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that agencies will reduce actual spending by only about $44 billion, with the remaining cuts carried over into future years.”

So, right there the $85 billion in immediate impact is nearly cut in half.

Also, there will be no immediate impact, or next to none.   The cuts will happen gradually giving Congress the opportunity to make various adjustments in the days ahead, such as refunding elements that have been cut, most likely starting with the military.  Many of the cuts will come in the form of layoffs, which won’t begin to happen until April or so, giving Congress at least a month of flex time to do some horse trading.

It could actually become interesting.

The question is:  Who can find the leverage to get the other side to do what?  Right now the Republicans seem content to let the cuts fall where they may and blame Obama for coming up with the sequestration idea to begin with in August of 2011, even though they voted for it and Boehner made it sound like a good idea at the time (to paraphrase him: I got 98% of what I wanted).  I don’t think it worth arguing the point, but it is my understanding the Obama team did come up with the idea, being that these budget cuts would become automatic if the two parties could not work out a more sensible solution by now.

Furthermore, my guess is that even back then the President could imagine things coming to this point given Congress’s habitual inability to come up with sensible solutions to anything.  So,  if re-elected, he would have the advantage now, and recent polls suggest he does.  However, to speculate some more, I believe he thought the Republicans would have to work out a deal with him in order to keep part of their traditional identity in tact:   a strong military first and foremost.

The stumbling block has been that the Republican Tea Party types are so fixated on cutting spending, they seem willing to cut it from anywhere, even the military.   Or course, hawks like John McCain aren’t on board with that, but the Republican Party is more splintered these days than an old park bench, a topic I will let lay for the moment.

So the sequestration cuts, at least the first tiny slices, figure to begin Friday.

There seems likely little immediate impact of this congressional dilly dallying unless Wall Street gets spooked by it all.  So far they’ve taken it in stride. Teetering-on-the-cliff politics has become old hat.

March 19 – Tuesday:  The NCAA Basketball Tourney begins, a form of madness that is much more fun, at least for me. This year seems particularly wide open as there is no one team that has proven dominant with the #1 ranking bouncing around like a volleyball. For those of you who do pools, give the St. Louis Billikens an extra gander and a  Google before counting them out.

March 27 – Wednesday:   Supposedly the federal government loses its authority to spend money, or perhaps it is March 31 (I’ve read both dates). That means the government shuts down as happened for 28 days when Bill Clinton was President.  This sounds drastic and, given the present Congress, just might prove to be.  Who knows?  But we have a few weeks to take a closer look at this next “cliff”. 

March 31 – Sunday: – Those not really interested in anything said so far might want to know that the  Major League Baseball season begins with the Texas Rangers vs. the Houston Astros.   It also might be the day the federal government shuts down, but I doubt it.