23 July 2009

Some sanity?

It appears my blog post from Tuesday had a bigger effect than I anticipated.

While not my favorite Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid gave me hope that the runaway train we're on might not end up going over the edge of that cliff after all.

Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday abandoned plans for a vote on health care before Congress' August recess, dealing a blow to President Barack Obama's ambitious timetable to revamp the nation's $2.4 trillion system of medical care.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delivered the official pronouncement on what had been expected for weeks, saying, "It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Thankfully, other ranking Democrats disagree strongly, so I'm not having second thoughts about my political alignments yet.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., didn't rule out going into August to get the bill done but said it might not be necessary.

"I'm not afraid of August. It's a month," Pelosi said. "What I am interested in is the sooner the better to pass health care for the American people."

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the third-ranking House Democrat, said a Thursday morning, 90-minute meeting of the leadership was particularly contentious. He said lawmakers should abandon plans for their monthlong break if the House hasn't passed a health care bill.

"We must stay here and get this thing done," he said at a news conference. "I feel very strongly about that. ... I think it will affect our standing with the American people if we don't do this."

Indeed it will, Mr. Clyburn. Just not how you think it will.

The saga of Boozer

In one of Bill Simmons' latest columns, he proposed a new rule in sports reporting/analyzing. Once the possibility that something big may happen is realized, we have 72 hours to discuss it, and then we're finished until something actually happens. For example, Ricky Rubio may or may not come to Minnesota this season. Once that is apparent, PTI, bloggers and newspaper writers can attack the story all they want for 72 hours, and then there's a moratorium on that topic until Rubio either comes to Minnesota to play or stays in Europe. The end.

I'd like to see that rule applied to the Boozer Trade saga. Either he'll get traded or he won't. All this rumor talk just annoys fans and gets old fast. What is important: the Jazz told Boozer they are trading him. Boozer said he'd like to play in Miami. The end. NBA.com's David Aldridge summed it up rather well:

Utah is not going to be goosed into doing a Carlos Boozer deal. All summer, we've been given breathless updates as to who is 'ahead' in the Boozer 'sweepstakes,' with the two-time All-Star making his preference for wearing Heat Black next season clear. Three-way trades, two-team trades, all kind of trades — to the Bulls, to the Heat, to the Knicks, with the emphasis on a supposedly imminent deal, the Jazz not possibly being able to welcome Boozer back into the fold next season. All wrong. There's a good chance Carlos Boozer is the starting power forward for Utah in November, with a slightly overpriced backup in Paul Milsap. Let me say this one more time: Utah is not going to be bullied, rushed or otherwise forced into trading Boozer anywhere. The Jazz is not going to do a deal for a deal's sake, and certainly isn't going to do a bad deal. That doesn't mean Utah isn't listening to offers (it is) or won't ultimately get a deal done for Boozer (though Miami will have to do better than combinations featuring Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright; if the first words out of Riles's mouth aren't 'Michael Beasley,' forget it).

There it is. The Jazz are serious about getting back good value for Booz, and if no one offers it, Boozer isn't going anywhere for now.

The moratorium begins now.

21 July 2009

Healthcare reform

This isn't really a post about the healthcare debate. Rather, it's about the lack of debate going on in Washington about it and other important issues in our country these last few months.

The financial bailouts, the cap and trade legislation and now healthcare reform are all being labeled as extremely, ridiculously urgent matters, and should be dealt with now now now. I feel this is dangerous.

While the current administration is Democratic, this is not a Right vs. Left issue, as President Bush was one of the hurriers last fall. A major piece of legislative work, the Patriot Act, was introduced to the House of Representatives on October 23, 2001 and then voted on in the House on October 24 and the Senate on October 25.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (America's current version of cap and trade) had 300 pages of amendments added to it the night before it was passed by the House last month.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke pleaded with Congress to quickly pass the $700 billion financial bailout last September. He argued that action was "urgently required to stabilize the situation and avert what otherwise could be very serious consequences for our financial markets and for our economy."

Well, it passed, and here we are, with 9.5% unemployment and no one knows where we're headed.

And just in the last few days, President Obama is taking to the airwaves, urging Congress to move quickly on healthcare reform.

Obama has accused his opponents of playing the politics of "delay and defeat" as he urges Congress to pass legislation before it goes into recess next month out of concern that if the process drags on late into the year public and congressional support will further erode.

Well, that sums it up pretty well, doesn't it? If the American people are given more time to learn about this reform and hear opposing arguments, they might change their mind about the movement. Best strike now while the iron is hot and the people don't know any better.

Financial magazines and newspapers are pleading with us to take a closer look at what is being proposed. To be sure, these writers have a conservative bias, but they know what they are talking about. From the Investor's Business Daily:

On Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a bill that would radically change our current system and expand coverage for the uninsured. The action came a day after the head of the Congressional Budget Office said none of the plans under review would slow health care spending. None of them.

Still, lawmakers and the White House press on, relying on GOP weakness in the House and a new veto-proof majority in the Senate. They're also relying on a lack of awareness that claims made on behalf of national health care may be mostly false. Among them:

• America has a health care crisis.

No, we don't. Forty-seven million people lack insurance. Of the remaining 85% of the population, or 258 million people, polls show high satisfaction with the current coverage. Indeed, a 2006 poll by ABC News, the Kaiser Family Foundation and USA Today found 89% of Americans were happy with their own health care.

As for the estimated 47 million not covered by health insurance, 20 million can afford to buy it, according to a study by former CBO Director June O'Neill. Most of the other 27 million are single and under 35, with as many as a third illegal aliens.

When it's all whittled down, as few as 12 million are unable to buy insurance — less than 4% of a population of 305 million. For this we need to nationalize 17% of our nation's $14 trillion economy and change the current care that 89% like?

I'm not here to debate the veracity of the claims from either side. My point is that there is plenty of reasoned, intelligent opposition to what is happening, yet President Obama and others are hell-bent on ramming this thing through as soon as possible, and the consequences, both intended and not, be damned.

I generally despise Washington for its inability to get anything done quickly or efficiently, but I've discovered that it's even more frightening dealing with a federal government that is moving at a breakneck pace. There is a happy medium between nothing getting done and where we are now.

Can we find it, please?

16 July 2009

Calvin and Hobbes

I love Calvin and Hobbes. A lot. I learned to read when I was four years old, and the very first thing I remember actually reading was Calvin and Hobbes, on our living room floor, in the Sunday comics. The strip had just come out around that time, and I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading compilation books, as well as the daily strip in the newspaper.

I learned a lot of new words from Calvin. I picked up on new ideas from Hobbes. I gained understanding about social mores from seeing how Calvin's contemporaries reacted to him and saw a lot of my dad in Calvin's own father.

I was 13 when Bill Watterson hung it up for good, and I put his last strip ever on my bedroom wall, where it hung until I went to college. I own several of the strip collections, though I do not own The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. As I've read every single strip multiple times, I find different wise phrases pop into my head at appropriate moments (see this week's thought). Calvin and Hobbes are as much a formative part of my life as anything else.

So when I heard that some guy was writing a book on Bill Watterson and his fairly popular strip titled "Looking for Calving and Hobbes", I was very interested and very concerned all at the same time. The reason why is articulated in the first chapter of the book, which you can get in .pdf format by e-mailing lookingforcalvinandhobbes@gmail.com. The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon here.

Initially, I told my friends about the project with equal amounts of boastfulness and fear. I was happy, because this was the gig of a lifetime, but I was afraid of what my peers would make of my work.

Because while they said, “Of course I know who Bill Watterson is! Calvin and Hobbes was the best comic strip ever!” I could read between the lines. What they were really saying was, “If you screw this book up, you will be pissing on some of the fondest memories of my youth. Don’t *&@I#? with my inner child . . . I will not be amused!”

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

What made Calvin and Hobbes so great? I maintain that the comic strip is so univerally loved because Watterson is a rare breed of genius... extraordinarily talented in both writing and art, he was able to combine both of those abilities into something that worked very, very well.

And as I've discovered, maintaining a high level of excellent work for a long time is very, very hard. Watterson took two sabbaticals and eventually hung it up after only ten years. Bill Amend of Fox Trot moved to Sunday-only strips. Gary Larson of The Far Side stopped after 15 years. Meanwhile, inane comics like Garfield and The Family Circus extend on forever and ever, mainly, I believe, because it's easy to churn out mediocrity for decades on end.

So I thank Bill Watterson for the gift he gave us and do not begrudge him his retirement or his much-valued privacy.