Debt fight! A game of honor and dimplomacy!

"...Debt fight! Tensions are high. Debt fight! Eye for eye.

I thought I might make a list of things I’m looking forward to over the next few weeks than I am the fight over the federal budget and our national debt. But that was taking too long, so I decided to make a list of things I’m dreading more than the budget/debt fight. But, I couldn’t come up with anything.

President Obama gave his speech outlining his deficit-reduction plan today, after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gave the GOP version. Commence finger pointing and name calling. Each side is accusing the other of not being serious about debt reduction. “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” said Obama. “The American people will not stand for (raising the debt limit) unless it is accompanied by serious action to reduce our deficit,” countered Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).

Both the Republican Democrat plans estimate they can shave about $4 billion off the debt over the next 10-12 years, but – of course – they have very different ideas about how to get there. Both of those plans – also of course – cling to traditional party ideologies. Boehner was very revealing on Sean Hannity’s radio show this afternoon, claiming he did the best he could for his “team” during the negotiations to keep the government from shutting down last week and he’ll keep fighting for his team. It’d be nice if he was fighting for Americans, but whatever.

The Tanned One told Hannity that they won’t budge of tax cuts, a stance for which he was praised. Hannity frequently claims he wants an “all hands on deck” strategy when it comes to energy policy, including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and green energies in working toward energy independence. He clearly doesn’t believe in the same approach when it comes to the deficit. None of the Republicans do, apparently. At a time when both sides agree it’s time to get “serious” about fixing our debt problem, it’s a shame Republicans are willing to take options off the table.

Raising taxes doesn’t have to be “soaking the rich,” as the Republicans call it. A small increase to the upper-level income earners can be a key piece of balancing our budget, and we don’t have to look any farther back than the Clinton administration. The top tax rate then – when we last had a balanced budget – was 39.6%. Under Obama it’s currently about 35%. Pushing it back up4.6% is hardly a soaking, especially when you consider it was 43.5% under Bush and went from 69.13% to 50% between 1981 and 1986 under Ronald Reagan. From there it went to 38.5% – close to the Clinton-era number – before falling to 28% over Reagan’s final 13 months.

But that alone isn’t going to fix things. Spending cuts are needed across the board, and it’s hard to imagine there should be any sacred cows right now. Democrats need to give some ground on Social Security, unemployment/welfare benefits, Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans need to allow meaningful cuts to our defense budget. World military expenditures reached an estimated $1.531 trillion in 2009. The U.S. was responsible for 46.5%. The next highest country was China, at 6.6%. In fact, you can add the expenditures of China, France, the U.K. and Russia and only come up with 18.1% Heck, add the next 10 countries to that total and you won’t equal what the U.S. spends on defense.

Defense, Social Security, unemployment/welfare, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s approximately 75.48% of the budget. None of them have to suffer too much if all of them suffer a little.

But there’s one big problem: 2012. There’s a big election coming and this fight over the deficit is going to be a prelude to what should be a particularly nasty election season. This will be all about team, not country. Don’t doubt that.


P.S. — If you don’t know where the title of this blog post came from, watch this: “Bat Fight,” on Funny or Die.


Friday Soundtrack, or a mental break

Oh, Régine.

Well, just when I thought it was safe to poke my head out again, here come the Republicans and Democrats to shut down the government over .17% of the federal budget. It’s the same games we’ve come to know and despise – an unrelated rider is attached to a bill, and the whole process of actually doing stuff grinds to a halt because of the unrelated rider. Beautiful, ladies and gents. Way to earn the paycheck.


I need a mental break. My latest checkout from the incredible Springfield-Greene County Library system is the Grammy-winning album “The Suburbs” by indie rockers Arcade Fire. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) is my favorite track of the album, as they lovely Régine Chassagne coos over pulsing synth: “Living in the sprawl / Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains / And there’s no end in sight / I need the darkness someone please cut the lights…”

Appropriate, I guess, since the federal government looks like it’s going dark for a little while. But I’m going to try not to think about that tonight and try to enjoy my weekend, at least for a little bit.




First they came for the menthols…

Courtesy: Chris MaddenThis Tuesday, April 5, I get to flex my democratic muscle once again. Love it! I’m pumped, even though my stance on one of the issues has drawn the ire of the other members of my household. I’ll explain.

One ballot measure, according to Springfield News-Leader reporter Amos Bridges, “would outlaw smoking indoors almost everywhere except private homes and vehicles, as well as outside in playgrounds and within 5 feet of prohibited areas.” I plan to vote “No” on this issue.

Full disclosure: I’m not a smoker. It’s been a good year since I’ve used tobacco of any kind, and there was another significant gap before that. And, contrary to the views of the News-Leader’s editorial board, I do understand that “the freedom of one person to smoke infringes on the personal liberty of others.” I also understand the health risk posed by tobacco use – even incredibly limited use like mine. I’m not denying that, like some opponents of the ban are (which I think is pretty ridiculous). To me this isn’t a public health issue. It’s a personal freedom issue.

I don’t mind outlawing smoking in bars and restaurants, hospitals and colleges, even playgrounds. That’s fine. What concerns me is the bill doesn’t allow exceptions for certain businesses, including tobacco shops. Supporters of the ban claim they are protecting workers and members of the public from the risks associated with secondhand smoke. That’s good. Most people, at some point, find it necessary to go into a restaurant or, even, take a job there. They shouldn’t have to be bombarded with secondhand smoke.

But a tobacco business, like Just for Him or The Albatross, isn’t like a restaurant. The average citizen could go their entire life and never set foot inside of those places, and the average citizen wouldn’t seek out employment in such a specialized shop unless they were interested in the product. Selling tobacco is perfectly legal, and the secondhand smoke in those businesses isn’t bothering anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered. But if the ordinance passes, both of those places will be forced to go smoke free, and The Albatross is likely out of business.

I don’t want to be responsible for that. Restrictions to protect public health are fine, but, when they force legal businesses to shut down, the civil libertarian in me gets uncomfortable, so I’m voting no. That means, according to the QCFW, I’m currently living in a house divided.

I’m also voting no on the ban on alcohol in family theaters. The News-Leader editorial board has my back on this one, calling it “unreasonable, and likely unenforceable.” This ballot measure seems aimed at Campbell 16 Cine, which has no history of troubles with alcohol. This, like the smoking ban, feels like an overreach.

But that’s just my opinion. Whatever your opinion is, make sure it’s heard Tuesday.


Was this in the pledge?

Editor’s note: Yes, I realize this is way behind the news cycle…but I wrote it, then had to set it aside for a while. I spent a lot of time on it and I don’t want it to go to waste. Humor me, please.

With crystal clear focus and laser precision, the Republican party made sure we knew it was gonna be different this time.

It’s hard to believe it was just six months ago when the Grand Old Party unveiled its “Pledge To America,” a 21-page document that outlined the its governing agenda. Just 11 grafs in, it’s spelled out in simple language: “The need for urgent action to repair our economy and reclaim our government for the people cannot be overstated.”

That, apparently, includes taking away funding for public broadcasting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a measure recently that would prevent stations from buying programming from National Public Radio – or any other source – with the $22 million they receive from the federal government.

So…is that repairing our economy? Or does that reclaim the government?

It’s interesting to see a party that blamed, in part, a “polarizing political environment” for “fraying the bonds among our people and blurring our sense of national purpose” spend so much time passing bills that they know will never pass the Senate, let alone get signed by President Obama. This measure, just like “repealing” the Affordable Health Care Act, is nothing more than red meat for the conservative base, designed to stir them up as we approach the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

One could try to declare this a great victory for fiscal conservatives, but look at that figure a few grafs up: $22 million. Barely a dent in the federal budget. No less than Rep. Ron Paul took to the house floor to criticize the move, saying:

“The very most they might save is $10 million, and that’s their claim to fame for slashing the budget. At the same time they won’t consider for a minute cutting a real, significant amount of money. All empires end for fiscal reasons, because they spread themselves too far around the world – and that’s what we’re facing.”

“That’s their claim to face for slashing the budget.” This is the root of what the Republicans are doing. They are returning to this focus on divisive wedge issues that helped drive me from the party in the first place. The attempt to cut funding from Planned Parenthood was just the beginning.

Public broadcasting, specifically NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, have long been conservative targets, considered to be far too liberal. The 228 Republicans who passed this measure will indeed brag to their constituents about cutting the budget while sticking it to the liberal elite at the same time. They may have accomplished neither.

Mike Durbin, the author of Principled Thoughts, asked me “If NPR is so great, how come it can’t be privately funded”? That, I told him, was the wrong question…and not just because NPR gets only about $5.4 million per year from the federal government. The majority of its $65 million budget comes from local stations, which pay for the programming (you’ve heard the pledge drives…I know you have). So it’s entirely possible that, minus this money, NPR will survive. But again, this is the wrong question.

Here’s the right question: Why does the United States need public, non-commercial, news broadcasting and reporting? It was answered in a far more eloquent manner than I could achieve in the pages of The Washington Post by Leonard Downie, Jr., a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, and Robert G. Kaiser, an associate editor at The Post. It’s well worth a read. Here’s a key snippet:

“…equally important to us is local news coverage, which has been even more severely weakened by shrunken reporting staffs and ambitions at newspapers and commercial stations in too many cities and towns. We have long believed that Americans benefit when powerful institutions and important issues in their lives are scrutinized by good reporters on their behalf. Yet this kind of ambitious local news coverage by commercial media has diminished in community after community in recent years.”

I have a clear bias here. Every paycheck I ever collected as a sports editor came from a community publication. While national and regional news organizations do wonderful things, there is no replacing what local, feet-on-the-ground, immersed-in-the-community reporting can offer a town of any size. And no group is better prepared to than a group that doesn’t have to rely on advertising revenue to survive. Those are the journalists who are able to take risks, to go after stories that might make advertisers or members of the local government uncomfortable.

James Fallows wrote a piece on “Why NPR Matters” back during the Juan Williams debacle, well before this bill was introduced. It’s timely now, though, as he points out:

“In their current anti-NPR initiative, Fox and the Republicans would like to suggest that the main way NPR differs from Fox is that most NPR employees vote Democratic. That is a difference, but the real difference is what they are trying to do. NPR shows are built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions. And while of course the selection of stories and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than embraced. NPR, like the New York Times, has an ombudsman. Does Fox? [I think the answer is No.]”

But perhaps my whole rant here is overthinking things a bit. This is not a serious bill introduced by the Republicans. They have to know – like repealing health care reform – it will never make it through the Senate or get signed by the president. They don’t necessarily want it to, though. This is a chance to stir up partisan feelings in preparation for the 2012 elections. Plain and simple. And it’s exactly the kind of thing they pledged to us they wouldn’t do. They are just continuing to fray the bonds among our people and blur our sense of national purpose.

And yes, Michael, I know you favor cutting all federal funding to private organizations. I know this won’t sway you. But this is my honest answer.


Have a laugh, please…

So, the unintentional hiatus is over, as is my goal of blogging at least once a week. Gah!

My faith in our modern society was shaken a little bit the other day, which almost led me to keep the hiatus going. But then I saw a good friend of mine has started a blog and I had to share it. So please go read the comedy stylings of the great Nichole Morrison. It will make you laugh, which Heaven knows I needed.


No bubbles or bracketology for me

Judging be the e-mails and calls to local sports talk radio shows as well as tweets by fellow Missouri State fans, I’m a lot less interested in this whole bubble watch and bracketology thing. I’ve paid as little attention to it as possible. Spoiler Alert: The Bears are highly, highly unlikely to be included in the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament when the bracket is announced in a couple of hours.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t be, just that they won’t. The highly-trusted Joe Lunardi has said as much, so it’s likely a done deal, right? It’s not because Missouri State’s a bad team, or doesn’t have a pretty good resume. It’s because MSU is a mid-major, and the selection system seems to be pretty regularly manipulated to ensure the high majors fill the brackets.

At one time, 20 wins was the magic number as far as NCAA resumes go. But there’s MSU with 25 wins, on the outside looking in. USC has 19 wins and is assumed to be in. Then I learned that your RPI has to be low, or you won’t get in. MO State is sitting at 44. The last four in, according to Lunardi? St. Mary’s (46), Clemson (55), Virginia Tech (60) and USC (68). Missouri State owns three of the five best RPIs to be left out of the NCAA Tournament – including the No. 1 spot (21, back in 2006). We know the RPI is a hot steaming load.

Top 50 wins are important, supposedly. This, too, skews towards the big boys, who are often reluctant to schedule mid-majors in non-league play and certainly don’t want to play them on the road. The signature wins this season for Clemson and VA Tech? All of them are conference opponents. Clemson is 0-5 against the Top 50. VT is 2-4. The knock against MSU is that even though they don’t have any really bad losses, they don’t have any really good wins. The Bears lost a close one at Tennessee, a projected 10 seed, early in the year. That win may have helped boost the resume, but it’s no guarantee.

This season should sit as a learning moment for Missouri State. They’ve got 20+ wins and a good RPI. They showed an ability to win away from home. They don’t have any horrible losses. These are all good things. But there’s no marquee win. There’s no body of work against Top 50 RPI teams. The non-conference schedule strength is kinda weak – though no worse than some teams that are in. *coughMissouri’sIs297ButMissouriState’sIs195cough*

It’s time to schedule up. Pat Hill put Fresno State football on the map with an “Anyone, any time, any place” mentality. You’re going to take some lumps, but you’re also going to increase the chance of picking up a marquee win. Don’t always hold out for a home-and-home. Take some 2-for-1s. Take some neutral floor games. as Ric Flair says, “To BE the man, you’ve got to BEAT the man! Whoooo!” Go beat the man, Bears.


Friday Soundtrack, or is this Fiasco’s fiasco?

There are very few artists that, when they put out a new album, I will buy sound unheard. One of the dropped a new joint – as the kids say – this week.

Lupe Fiasco, born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco and raised in Chicago, first caught my attention with his 2006 debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. He’s a different kind of MC than people are used to. That album’s lead single, for instance – called “Kick, Push” – was a skater-boy-meets-skater-girl love story. One of my personal favorites from that album is a track called “Daydreamin’,” featuring the divine Jill Scott. That song mocks the excesses of most rap music and its videos before Lupe says “I had to turn my back on what got you paid / I couldn’t see half the hood on me like Abu Ghraib / But I’d like to thank the streets that drove me crazy / And all the televisions out there that raised me…”

Fiasco continued to do his own thing on 2007’s The Cool, which was nearly a concept album, building off a couple of tracks on Food & Liquor. As said, “a fatherless boy is raised by supernatural characterizations of the streets (named the Streets) and the game (named the Game), squanders his potential, becomes motivated by greed, turns to dealing drugs, gets caught up on a few levels.” This album continued to distance Lupe, a clever lyricist, from the hip-hop morass.

So it was with great anticipation that I waited for Lupe’s next album…and waited, and waited. The album, Lasers, was delayed several times and Fiasco had to make several artistic concessions before the label would finally release it to an audience so eager to hear it, that 30,000 of them signed a petition demanding Atlantic release the album and many other fans held a protest outside Atlantic’s offices.

What did Lupe Fiasco’s fans get? Depends on who you ask. Some Web sites have given it horrible reviews, while gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Rolling Stone, however, loved it. They gave it 4 1/2 stars (out of 5), saying “Lasers, is shorter, brighter and — most admirably — more optimistic. It places Lupe in a tradition that runs from Marley to M.I.A.: the soul rebel who refuses to believe righteous struggle has to be a grind.”

I, of course, will make up my mind for myself. This Friday Soundtrack is the lead single from Lasers, “The Show Goes On.” Here Lupe reworks the chorus from Modest Mouse’s “Float On” and defiantly raps that, even when people try to bring him down or mistreat him:

…I don’t switch up I just laugh
Put my kicks up on they desk
Unaffected by they threats, then get busy on they ass
See that’s how that Chi-Town made me
That’s how my daddy raised me
They glittering may not be gold, don’t let no body play me
If you are my homeboy, you never have to pay me
Go on and put your hands up, when times are hard you stand up…

Good stuff from Lupe, bright and optimistic as Rolling Stone said. This one’s going to power my weekend. Enjoy yours.